Demorest Sewing Machine Company History

Demorest sewing machines were manufactured by the Demorest Fashion and Sewing Machine Company, later called the Demorest Manufacturing Company. It was also referred to as the Demorest Sewing Machine Company in advertisements. The Demorest name came from Madame Demorest of Madame Demorest’s Reliable Patterns, the Demorest Emporium of Fashions, and Demorest Monthly Magazines fame.

Early history of the company is confusing. I found three sources (1,2,3) that state that the company was founded in 1845 as a metal fabricating business by Madame Demorest. The Lycoming Museum brochure specifically states the founder was Madame Ellen Curtis Demorest. A shipping card uses the phrase "Mme. Demorest - - Est. 1845". However, there was no Madame Demorest in 1845.

According to Crusades and Crinolines (4, p. 8, 9 & 19), in 1845, Ellen Curtis was a 20 year old unmarried milliner. William Demorest married his first wife, Margaret Willamina Poole, in 1845. Margaret was 22 years old and there is no suggestion in the biography that she had industrial interests. Margaret died in 1857 and William married Ellen in 1858. The title Madame Demorest was a trade name for Ellen’s paper pattern business to make them sound Parisian, and came into use circa 1860 with the first issue of Madame Demorest’s Mirror of Fashions. I didn’t find any mention in the biography of the metal fabricating business.

There is also no mention in Crusades and Crinolines of the Madame Demorest sewing machine, which produces a stitch similar to hand basting. According to The Encyclopedia of Early American Sewing Machines(5), the Madame Demorest was made during the 1860’s and the box was labeled “Madame Demorest’s 5 dollar first premium running stitch sewing machine, Emporium of Fashions, 473 Broadway, New York". That was the address of the Demorests' first shop in New York City when they launched the pattern business.(4, p. 20)

William Demorest liked to tinker and patented several improvements to sewing machines and attachments such as a tucker. Ironically, he patented his inventions but not his wife’s paper patterns, allowing Ebenezer Butterick to patent paper patterns in 1863 (4, p. 50). According to Crusades and Crinolines, (4, p. 48-49) seamstresses sewed on Singer, Grover and Baker, Wheeler and Wilson, Howe and Weed sewing machines. “From 1866 on they also had the Bartlett & Demorest machine, noted for its elastic stitch and sturdy wear”. This machine is described as a chainstitch machine that sewed in either direction with a looper that reciprocated instead of rotating.

Madame Demorest retired from the pattern business in 1887 (4, p. 230) and “The pattern business was sold to two advertising agents who formed a stock company that continued to use Mme. Demorest’s name as a trade label only. It was called the Demorest Fashion and Sewing-Machine Company but the Demorests had no interest in it.” (4, p. 231) The headquarters of the Emporium of Fashions and Reliable Patterns and Demorest’s Monthly Magazine was 17 East 14th Street in New York City, and that is the address found on early Demorest Sewing Machine ads.

The newly formed Demorest Fashion and Sewing Machine Company offices remained in New York City, but a manufacturing plant was built in Williamsport, PA in 1889. Williamsport was known as the "Lumber Capital of the World" in the mid-1800s. Two local businessmen recognized that the lumber era would not last forever and established a "Board of Trade" to attract new businesses to the area. The Demorest Fashion and Sewing Machine Company was one of them. (6) Some ads make it look like the factory was in New York City, but the back of the manual has a subheading showing that the "works at Williamsport, PA".

According to History of Lycoming County PA, “The Demorest Manufacturing Company is one of the large industries of Williamsport in which iron is involved. In brief, the history of this establishment is as follows: It was founded in 1845 by Madame Demorest, who retired in 1883, selling her interest to G. S. & F. M. Scofield, of New York. They sold in 1888 to the Demorest Fashion and Sewing Machine Company, and the business was transferred to the Demorest Manufacturing Company of Williamsport in 1892. The factory was built in Williamsport in 1889, the citizens subscribing $100,000 in stock. The buildings cover six acres and the capital at present is $300,000. The employees number 250, and an average of fifty sewing machines are turned out daily. Opera chairs, and the "New York" bicycle are also manufactured.”

Hugh McDonald, who previously managed factories for Williams Manufacturing Company, was hired as general manager of the new Demorest factory.(4) McDonald held the patents for many of the components of the Demorest Sewing machines. Other sources list S. H. Ellis as the inventor of the bicycle manufactured at the plant, but this author states that it was patented by McDonald. Many of the businessmen listed in the biographical sketches in History of Lycoming County PA were stockholders in the Demorest Manufacturing Company.

The company produced 50 to 60 sewing machines a day and shipped them all over the world. According to the exhibit in the The Thomas T. Taber Museum of the Lycoming County Historical Society, machines were exported to Europe, Japan, China, Russia, South America, Africa, and the Carribean. Machines cost from $19.50 to $55. By 1891 they were also manufacturing the “New York Bicycle” which the Lycoming County Historical Society exhibit states was invented by employee S. H. Ellis. The early bicycles weighed 63 pounds, but were eventually reduced to 28 pounds. They sold for $85, $100, and $125. The company later produced a 19.5 pound racing bicycle. They also manufactured opera chairs. An interesting ad states that the Irish population of New York and Philadelphia prefer Demorest bicycles and sewing machines. The Thomas T. Taber Museum of the Lycoming County Historical Society and The Lycoming Museum both had samples of the New York Bicycle.

According to exhibit in The Thomas T. Taber Museum of the Lycoming County Historical Society: “Demorest workers cast molten pig iron into the various machine parts using clay molds. After parts were trimmed, smoothed, and polished, workers assembled and fitted them into wooden cabinets. The company also produced its own cabinets.” “When it could no longer produce sewing machines at a profit, the company was sold in 1908. The group that bought it changed the name to the Lycoming Foundry and Machine Company”.

The Lycoming Museum brochure states: “In 1907, the company was restructured and named the Lycoming Foundry and Machine Company, focusing primarily on designing and building automobile and truck engines. Twenty years later, Lycoming built its first aircraft engine”. In 1920 the company name was changed to Lycoming Manufacturing Company. In 1939 it became AVCO Lycoming and produced lightweight air cooled aircraft engines. In 1986 it was purchased by Textron and became Textron Lycoming. In 2002 the name was changed to Lycoming, A Textron Company. Lycoming is a division of AVCO Corporation, a Textron subsidiary.

Sources of information:

1. The Thomas T. Taber Museum of the Lycoming County Historical Society, 858 West Fourth Street, Williamsport, PA,17701-5824, Phone: 570 326-3326.

2. The Lycoming Museum, a booklet from the Lycoming company museum. Lycoming is the current name of the company that used to manufacture Demorest sewing machines. They now manufacture aircraft engines.

3. History of Lycoming County Pennsylvania, edited by John F Meginness, 1892, chapters 21 and 48.

4. Crusades and Crinolines, The Life and Times of Ellen Curtis Demorest and Williams Jennings Demorest, by Ishbel Ross, 1963.

5. The Encyclopedia of Early American Sewing Machines, second edition, by Carter Bays, p 120, 127.

6. http://www.historicwilliamsport.com/events.html

7. Advertisements and trade cards


Last update 11-22-06