A corporate history of one of the world’s leading sewing machine manufacturers.
In this debut business book, Buckman traces more than 150 years of Singer’s history, from the first commercially successful sewing machine produced in the mid-19th century to the hazards of leveraged buyouts and takeovers in the 1980s and its more recent revival after several ownership changes. The “notoriously public private life” of Isaac Singer (father of more than two dozen acknowledged children by a variety of wives and mistresses) and his partner Edward Clark’s more patrician lifestyle serve as the backdrop for the company’s early history, and Buckman makes it clear that the philanthropic and professional pursuits of the Singer and Clark families—the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Dakota, the famous Manhattan building; the Baseball Hall of Fame—have been nearly as significant forces as the sewing machine itself. As the company moved away from family ownership, however, its management displayed a mixed track record, pursuing unwise acquisitions and moving into the aerospace field until it drew the attention of corporate raiders who came close to finishing it off. Buckman analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of each period in the company’s development, pointing out the confluence of factors that led to early market dominance (an unlikely union of complementary personalities and control of necessary patents) and placing it in the context of the global business trends of the 20th century. Buckman demonstrates a solid understanding of Singer’s business and evolution, though the book stumbles somewhat over imprecise history (“Prior to the nineteenth century, mobility was relatively rare”; “The notion of ‘free time’ for their wives was an oxymoron”) and awkward phrasing (“he named it after the American Indian word for ‘home,’ the ‘Wigwam’ ”). But the book’s thorough grounding in primary sources and its adept blending of human drama with balance sheets outweigh the shortcomings, making it a valuable contribution to the field of industrial history in the United States.
A solid history of the Singer company from the invention of the sewing machine to the days of leveraged buyouts.