Singer at the Century of Progress – Chicago World’s Fair 1933 & 1934
Much has been written by people far more knowledgeable than us (ahh hum, read; “Nova”) about Singer’s presence at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933 & 1934. We can, however, share with you a few of the pieces we’ve collected over time related to Singer and the Fair and hope it opens your eyes to items to watch for.
First a few facts about the two years of the Fair:
1933 Chicago Century of Progress International Exposition
1934 Chicago Century of Progress International Exposition
Total Visitors (2 years, 1933 – 1934) 48,769,227
Total Days (2 years, 1933 – 1934) 333 days
As noted above, the first year of the Fair in 1933 closed on November 12th, just 29 days after the first group of Singer Featherweights could have been made or hit the streets. It is unlikely that the Singer Model 221 Featherweight was introduced at the Fair that year as it was still in the development stages. (In a later article I will picture a few developmental changes.) The earliest Featherweight serial number recorded for a Chicago World’s Fair (CWF) 221 of the current 31 known in collections is AD543135.
Singer exhibited their most popular household appliances: i.e. irons, vacuums, and sewing machines and cabinets. Shoppers could watch sewing demos, purchase and order. Singer also presented coupons (certificates) to window shoppers that offered a choice of free lessons or a Singercraft guide for making rugs, if you brought the coupon to your local Singer Dealer (more on those in the next article).
Singer models we’ve collected from the Century of Progress World Fair(s) are below. Note the year variances and the colors of the badges in both years (See photos)
Singer Models – 1933 – Blue & Gold badge
Singer Models – 1934 – Rust & Gold badge
We purchased this Featherweight (AD 723447) from the nephew of Mercedes. I was very pleased with finding that all pieces were original to the year this 221 was made and knew it would be a fine addition to our ever growing collection, but my excitement grew as I learned more about its original owner, Mercedes Kammerer of Sioux City, Iowa.
First, however, let me tell you about this machine. It’s a second production run 221 with a serial number assignment date of September 10, 1934. This second of sixty American production runs is unique in that approximately the first 2,500 of 10,000 machines have what appears to be hand-stamped or re-stamped serial numbers. These machines beginning with serial number AD 720746 were originally stamped with first production run serial numbers. Someone on the assembly line failed to change over the serial number stamping machine! When the error was discovered the serial numbers had to all be ground off and the correct/assigned numbers hand stamped over the top as the numbers stamped in error had previously been assigned to Singer Models 81 and 95 industrial machines that had already been made. This was a potentially huge nightmare for the bookkeepers and service department. This stopping of the production line to correct the error(s) cost months of productivity. Notice the gap between the first production run of 10,000 Singer Featherweight 221’s assigned on October 3, 1933 and the assignment of the second run of 10,000 (September 10, 1934) was eleven months, when in actuality Singer was able to mold-assemble-polish-decal and palletize for shipping 10,000 machines in about three to five months. The error machines are coveted by some! (more about these errors in a future article)
Second style case tray
Finding Mercedes “the Dancer”
Again, I asked the seller for any history of the machine that he might provide. Again, I hit upon a treasure trove! He wrote, sent paperwork and included it with the machine. It stated that his aunt had received the machine from her father about the time of her senior year in high school or possibly as a Christmas present. It was exactly the information I needed to once again begin my research.
I found newspaper articles speaking to her talent as a performer/dancer. I also found a copy of her high school yearbook picture with the statement next to her name, “She’ll tap her way to the stars!” Through Census records I found her parents moving from Omaha, NE to Sioux City, IA with the telephone company where her father was employed. Mercedes’ family was being reborn. I then found her marriage to a trumpet player named Nalto Shay (Red) Hill in Scottsbluff, NE. Wait, it gets better! Through her nephew I found that Mercedes had gone to dance professionally in Chicago and from there was hired to dance with the Benny Goodman Swing Band! Mercedes carried the machine with her while on the road and would make needed alterations and repairs for her fellow dancers and band members. She and Nalto eventually moved to the Los Angeles, CA area where Nalto appeared on the radio and in the Lawrence Welk Orchestra, and Mercedes wrote songs, publishing at least two that I could find. Not my kind of music, but whatever!
Mercedes and Red Hill Mercedes Kammerer
Sad-Sad Day, “Etta” #44 AD541590
This is the story of “Etta” AD541590 the earliest Singer Featherweight we’ve had in our collection. Etta is 44th Singer 221 made! It’s a story of a unique, rare find and at the same time, a very sad one.
Etta was discovered on eBay listed as an early Singer 221. The seller lived outside Chicago, Ill. and had posted just a few pictures, one of which was of the hand-stamped serial number. That drew my attention immediately and I hit the Buy it Now button without a second thought! Sometimes that works out – most of the time, it doesn’t!
I contacted the seller to inquire about the history of the machine and offered packing instructions. The owner was selling her grandmother’s “little sewing machine that had been in the closet for quite some time and was purchased in about 1933 or 1934…” I was excited!
The machine arrived well packaged in an early Type 1 case with a full attachments box and a 0.7 amp foot controller. The original belt was still intact.
Now the real fun began! - the in-depth inspection. For me that’s the Best part!
[My findings (in pictures) are noted in the attached Microsoft PowerPoint comparing its features with a later first production run Featherweight AD543535]
Original Owner Discovery
Sometimes things just work out, you get surprised. A wonderful surprise (not part of the machine itself) was uncovered during my initial inspection. Etched into the bottom of the drip/oil pan was a name! “Mrs Josephson”. Let me back up just a bit. While Pam was in Salt Lake City perusing fabric stores and sewing on others’ Featherweights, I was teaching myself genealogy at the LDS Family History Library across the street from the Mormon Tabernacle on South Temple - a wonderful place to spend your time!
Anyway, back to 2014. By the time I found “Etta”, I’d advanced my genealogical skills to the intermediate beginner status. Putting together what I’d learned from the seller (always ask for the history of a potential purchase) and the name etched into the oil pan, I found her! Mrs. Etta Wolf Josephson of Chicago, IL!; born in 1870 in Champaign, IL, married to Joseph in 1888, and mother of four girls and a boy. Etta passed at age 90 in Chicago.
Etta and her husband Moses J. Josephson owned a haberdashery shop selling sewing notions first in Springfield, IL and then in Chicago just minutes away from the site of the Chicago World’s Fair.
The Sad - Sad Day
I’d mentioned earlier that Pam worked and taught in the local quilt store, Prism Quilts. The store was in an older building narrower than long and had a shelf stretching all around the entire shop surrounding the floor space below. At about 3-feet wide and 14-feet high from the floor, it was a perfect shelf to display about 25-26 Featherweights with cases. Easy to see while shopping, but out of reach – perfect setting – perfect display in a quilt store!
As time went by we added quilts and advertising to the display to provide color. Also, early advertisements of the Featherweight pictured it on a unique American Standard 30 lb. scale to demonstrate their weight at 11.25 lbs. The majority of kitchen scales of that day were 24 lb. An 11.2 lb. Featherweight pictured on a 24 lb. scale would show the arrow-shaped indicator pointing almost straight down. On a 30 lb. American Family Kitchen Scale made in Chicago, the arrow would indicate a weight closer to the 4 o’clock position creating the perception of an even lighter-weight sewing machine. FYI the name itself; ie, Featherweight was purchased by Singer from the Standard-Osann Company along with their patents and Company in the early 1930’s (more about that in a subsequent article).
Our machines were placed in chronological order on the shelf, oldest as you entered on your right to most current as you were leaving (again on your right) – sort of a racetrack display. We placed Etta in the lead in position, displayed prominently up front on one of the American Family 30 lb. kitchen scales as pictured below from a 1934 advertisement. It sat there for over a year receiving many, many curious comments until……
As the story unfolds, Pam was at home when she received a call from the store manager with the sad news. The local Internet cable company installers while stringing a new cable line had run the cable behind the machine, and when the line was tugged they upended the scale and the machine - falling 14 feet to the ground. It was shattered and unrepairable. The earliest known Featherweight was destroyed!
I can’t write another word about it. You understand…..
Mrs. Etta Wolf Josephson (1870 – 1960)
We collect sewing machines and sewing memorabilia. Specifically, we’ve been using and collecting Singer Featherweights for over 30 years. We don’t claim to be experts in the history, use, or repair of sewing machines, but hope to provide some insight into identifying and purchasing collectible Singer Featherweights. Through these articles we hope to point out a few unique characteristics to watch for, those features deemed to make the ordinary become collectible. We will feature Featherweights from our collection and discuss why we added them to our display. Generally they will be shown in pairs or within a group (i.e. collections within a collection). We will also share with you the stories behind the original owners where available.
First, a little background. Pam learned to sew on her mother’s Singer Model 99 in the early-mid 60’s in Grand Forks, ND (yes, she still has it). Her first personal sewing machine, a Kenmore 158, was given to her by my folks as a wedding gift in ’71 (yes, it’s still in the family, and yes, still married - 48 years as of today!). Pam’s interest in sewing continued along with the growth and needs of our 5 daughters (clothing, patching, quilts, future wedding gifts) and subsequently our grandkids’ requirements. In the mid-80’s Pam spent time with one of the girls in Salt Lake City. In her off-time she would visit the many local fabric/sewing centers. While there, Pam was intrigued by seeing a Featherweight in action. She was invited to sew on it…. she was hooked. Upon returning home to Wyoming, Pam told me about it, thus, getting me involved. I found her first Featherweight, AE544666 (I know, a devil machine), a 1937 model at an antique store on S. Broadway in Denver (and yes, she still has it). Then, 221 AE207677, a 1936 version, with slotted foot controller and a Featherweight table on 44th Ave. in Denver and on and on continuing to this day when we recently added AD541637 (91st machine produced). This machine is a very rare and unique Featherweight sent to us from Jane Lynch of Massachusetts. Pam still sews with Pre-War Featherweights as she says, “They have a Karma about them! A different sound, a different feel!” (more about that and why in a future article).
While I searched antique stores and eBay listings building her collection etc, Pam was teaching quilt classes, working at our local quilt store, and traveling to Quilt Festivals and classes throughout the US, toting her machine along. Many birthdays, anniversaries, Christmases later gave me the opportunity to gift additional 221s and memorabilia to her.
The collection now includes: fifty or so collectible Singer Featherweights, a variety of makes and models commemorating World Fairs and Exhibitions, and assorted memorabilia and accessories. We also have a colorful group of Standard-Sewhandy, Osann, Singer-Osann machines; five collectible ELNA Grasshoppers; early Berninas; etc. Some might call it a hoard? But, I don’t understand?
Future articles will include: the sad, sad story of our earliest Featherweight Etta AD541590 (44th machine produced); other early Featherweights and their cases; changes/comparisons; corduroy tool kits (lid liners); Blacksides; Wrinkles/Crinkles; Chicago World’s Fair 1934; Texas Centennial 1836-1936; both Golden Gate Exhibition 221s; Century of Sewing Service 221s from around the World; early and late Mexican/South American machines; unusual decals, inspection marks; motors, foot controllers; tables made for the Featherweight; and articles on attachments, accessories, advertising, surgical instruments and Salesman’s toolboxes; collecting Foreign Featherweights and the final production run of American 221s…
We want to thank Nova Montgomery, Darla Trenner, Lynn Rowe, Jane Lynch, Leo Kujat & JJ Coble and so many others for the encouragement and assistance in putting together these machines. We hope you’ll find some value in our stories and pictures.
Pam & J.C.Elliott
AE544666 – June 11, 1937
Pam’s 1st Featherweight
Wedding Gift 1971