In 1850, Isaac Merritt Singer invented the first practical sewing machine for general domestic use, and nearly 170 years later The Singer Company is still making them. But did you know the company once manufactured guns?
For a brief period, between 1939 – 1945, Singer suspended production of all sewing machines to focus on wartime goods. At the time, American manufacturers across all industries were retooling their factories to assist the country with World War II.
As part of the effort, the U.S. War Department commissioned Singer with manufacturing a preliminary run of 500 M1911A1 pistols just to see if they could reach a production goal of 100 firearms per day.
Singer manufactured all 500 firearms, but was unable to reach the desired daily production rate. As such, Singer wasn’t given the contract to produce any more pistols. Instead, the tooling machines were transferred to Remington Rand and Ithaca Gun Company, who went on to produce an estimated 1.9 million pistols for the war.
Still, the War Department was impressed by the quality of Singer’s work — and so they contracted with the company to manufacture aviation instruments, such as navigation and targeting equipment, instead.
As for the 500 Singer pistols, they were issued to the U.S. Army Air Forces. But due to the Air Forces’ high casualty rate, few pistols made it back from the war.
Today, Singer pistols are considered incredibly rare and highly valued among gun collectors. Some even call it the “holy grail” of pistols.
There are about a dozen Singer M1911A1 pistols left in known-existence. In 2017, one sold at auction for just over $400,000.
Too bad their antique sewing machines aren’t worth nearly as much. Otherwise, we’d all be rich.
For more interesting articles about our craft’s storied past, check The Hog Ring’s “Industry History” section.
Maybe Mal from NC can shed some light on this. This is the second time I’ve heard of a sewing machine company making firearms. When I toured the JUKI headquarters in Japan, they said that they started out manufacturing rifles. What is it about the tooling that makes it such an easy crossover?
The tools used for the small screws and pars for the needle bar and presser foot are typically the same machines used in guns. Since machinists who could operate the machines were in short supply, it was easier to get the people in the sewing machine shops to make the parts than train new employees.
Jim I wish we knew more. Singer was right down the street from us and the company was destroyed by the new owners. Before my time i think was the early 90’s. One of the all time great US companies fell quickly. What a shame.
Jim Mercer says
I have a double barrel rabbit ear shotgun that says it was made by singer sewing machine co. It is missing the right rabbit ear, any info where I can get one and more info about the gun.