How Singer Machines are Numbered

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From: The Sewing Machine and Cycle Gazette 1st August 1906

(Quoting from: Elizabeth, N. J., Journal and Sewing Machine Advance)


When the men who work in the dry milling department in Singer's came together yesterday morning, from one end to the other information rapidly spread that "Dan" wasn't in. To anyone long connected with the factory this statement was significant, for "Dan" has grown to be a fixture in the establishment.

In 1882 Daniel Carberry went to work in the Singer factory, and since that time - a period of twenty-three years - the records of the company show that he has never lost a day. Not weather nor sickness could prevail against him, and each day that the factory has been open he was on time.

Yesterday was the first time in twenty-three years that he was out. Then it was through no fault of his, for the company sent him to New York to rectify an error. Four men were put to do the work which long habit has rendered automatic to "Dan". The foreman, Adam Pache, supervised them throughout the day. But in spite of the increased force and the instruction continually given, the "beds" accumulated at their machine, and work throughout the department went by fits and starts.

The work which Mr Carberry has done nearly a quarter of a century is unique. Each machine which the Singer Company manufactures is given a number. This number is stamped on the "bed" of the machine. The machine is sold by its number. Carberry has numbered every machine that went out of Singer's in the last twenty-three years. Now there is a machine which does this automatically. The "bed" is inserted at a place provided for it, a lever is pressed, and then like the beating of taps on a drum, various hammers strike the "bed", impressing upon it the required number. So it goes all day, each "bed" receiving a number just one higher than the "bed" immediately preceding it. The figures run into the millions now. At every hundred "beds" the operator has to adjust the machine, and then it is ready to stamp another hundred without the possibility of a mistake. It is not even necessary to keep a reckoning so as to know when to change, for the machine is so admirably constructed that when a hundred "beds" have been numbered it will stop of itself, refusing to proceed and make a mistake.

This numbering machine has only been in operation eight years. Before that the beds had to be stamped by hand. Here human fallibility entered into the matter. If two machines were stamped with the same number trouble was bound to ensue. The authorities therefore were extremely circumspect in their choice of a man for the position. They demanded a certificate of character that made the applicant well nigh saintly, and they hedged him in with an abundance of restrictions.

Carberry had to abstain from liquor always, and he had to promise to turn in at a modest hour each night, unless an acquaintance with the owl was absolutely necessary.

The numbering machine is by far the most interesting of all the intricate contrivances in the department. It is the invention of Frederick Miller, master mechanic in Singer's. Before him, William Rice, a former boss in the dry milling department, for years experimented with a machine. The company wanted to absolve itself from its dependence on a single man's sobriety and fidelity. They desired automatic exactness. Rice was encouraged to go on with his attempts, regardless of expense. He finally evolved a cumbersome affair which did the work. It did it too zealously, in fact, for the number stamping hammers came down with such force that they smashed each "bed" that was tried. Rice gave up in despair.

"Automatic" Miller succeeded to the position of Rice and to his attempts to construct the required apparatus. He triumphed. The machine which he perfected eight years ago is still used to-day, and has numbered over a million sewing machines.