The story of the Singer Sewing Machine Company is a grand tale, full of larger-than-life characters, dreamers and adventurers, statesmen and rogues. It unfolds over 150 years, and impacts historical events and movements all over the globe. The history of this most secretive of corporations is a detective story, full of twists and turns, of adventure, drama, and pathos. It encompasses greatness and failed dreams, and explores the corruptive influence of power and money even as it celebrates the human spirit.
The Singer Sewing Machine Company was the first of the great American multinationals. For much of its history the bluest of blue-chip companies, Singer was one of the first large corporations to lose its moorings in the twentieth century, falling prey to wave after wave of increasingly ruthless corporate raiders. When Singer filed for bankruptcy in 1999, it was the most complicated international bankruptcy in history, involving 11 countries. The Singer story, which continues to unfold in courtrooms around the world, is an instructive tale which illuminates the role and impact of corporations in the modern world through the long lens of its 150 year history.
I'm going to tell you this story, because it's also mine. I was a Singer baby, born in Mexico and raised all over South America by Jack Martin, a Scottish adventurer who left the Old World, like so many before him, to seek his fortune. He found it in the service of Singer. The most devoted of employees, my father rose swiftly through the ranks and prospered in Singer's service, until he was fired when the company began to lose its way. He died too young, and I always felt Singer broke his heart. Tracking this story, I've discovered he was one of the lucky ones.
I have always wanted to understand this great company, which did such good around the world, and which went so wrong. This is a daughter's story, about a corporation run by men, the wives and children at home waiting. My father was a fascinating stranger, gone far more often than he was home, always in the service of the company. Tracking the Singer story, I've gotten to know, through the company, the father I hardly knew.
I'm writing The Great Civilizer: The Singer Sewing Machine and the Modern World, and I'm going to tell you my Singer story. Will you tell me yours?