Clark, Edward

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fl. 1850s New York State, USA
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American co-developer of mass-production techniques at the Singer sewing machine factory.
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Born in upstate New York, where his father was a small manufacturer, Edward Clark attended college at Williams and graduated in 1831. He became a lawyer in New York City and from then on lived either in the city or on his rural estate near Cooperstown in upstate New York. After a series of share manipulations, Clark acquired a one-third interest in Isaac M. Singer's company. They soon bought out one of Singer's earlier partners, G.B.Zeiber, and in 1851, under the name of I.M.Singer \& Co., they set up a permanent sewing machine business with headquarters in New York.
The success of their firm initially rested on marketing. Clark introduced door-to-door sales-people and hire-purchase for their sewing machines in 1856 ($50 cash down, or $100 with a cash payment of $5 and $3 a month thereafter). He also trained women to demonstrate to potential customers the capabilities of the Singer sewing machine. At first their sewing machines continued to be made in the traditional way, with the parts fitted together by skilled workers through hand filing and shaping so that the parts would fit only onto one machine. This resembled European practice rather than the American system of manufacture that had been pioneered in the armouries in that country. In 1856 Singer brought out their first machine intended exclusively for home use, and at the same time manufacturing capacity was improved. Through increased sales, a new factory was built in 1858–9 on Mott Street, New York, but it soon became inadequate to meet demand.
In 1863 the Singer company was incorporated as the Singer Manufacturing Co. and began to modernize its production methods with special jigs and fixtures to help ensure uniformity. More and more specialized machinery was built for making the parts. By 1880 the factory, then at Elizabethport, New Jersey, was jammed with automatic and semi-automatic machine tools. In 1882 the factory was producing sewing machines with fully interchangeable parts that did not require hand fitting in assembly. Production rose from 810 machines in 1853 to half a million in 1880. A new family model was introduced in 1881. Clark had succeeded Singer, who died in 1875, as President of the company, but he retired in 1882 after he had seen through the change to mass production.
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Further Reading
National Cyclopaedia of American Biography.
D.A.Hounshell, 1984, From the American System to Mass Production, 1800–1932. The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States, Baltimore (a thorough account of Clark's role in the development of Singer's factories).
F.B.Jewell, 1975, Veteran Sewing Machines. A Collector's Guide, Newton Abbot.
RLH

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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