Since we opened our doors to the public, we have restored the cabinets of countless sewing machines. In fact, in roughly the last 20 years, not a day has gone by that we have not had someone’s sewing machine in the shop either underway or awaiting restoration. Most have been early treadle operated machines that have been passed down from generation to generation within a family. Some have been more modern electric machines dating from the 1940’s to as new as the 1980’s.
Recently one of our longtime clients brought us a sewing machine like none we have ever seen before. This machine is also a family heirloom, having belonged to the client’s grandmother. It is a Free-Westinghouse machine in a beautifully ornate cabinet from the 1920’s. I was able to date the machine to 1926 and even found an image of the original sales brochure and operating manual.
The Free Sewing Machine Company has a very interesting history. The St. John Sewing Machine Company, which was the predecessor of the Free Sewing Machine Company, was founded in 1870. In 1883, it was renamed the Royal Sewing Machine Company. After the company relocated to Rockford, Illinois, it was renamed once again in 1897 as The Free Sewing Machine Company after the company’s president, William C. Free.
The Free – Westinghouse machine first appeared in 1926 after the company became associated with Westinghouse as the sole supplier of electric motors to Free. The name was used into the 1950’s. However, post World War II the company began having machines made in Japan.
Westinghouse was apparently not too happy about this as Free was no longer using their motors for their imported machines. In 1957, a lawsuit was filed by Westinghouse to stop Free from using the Westinghouse name.
Unable to compete against cheap overseas labor, the company was bought out by the Japanese in 1954.
Here are some before photos.
The walnut cabinet and detail work is an excellent example of the style popular in the 1920’s. Stay tuned for a look at the completed restoration of this diamond in the rough.