One of the many apocryphal stories about Mr. Singer is that he also invented the machine gun. While this story is not true, the system of mass manufacturing first invented by Samuel Colt for his repeating pistol lent itself beautifully to the sewing machine. "Colonel" Colt's machines for making interchangeable parts for his guns were easily modified by the sewing industry, and soon Singer factories could produce weapons as easily as they could produce sewing machines, and did so, beginning in the Civil War.
Sewing machines, guns and war have been linked ever since. In the 1890s, Singer put out a series of trade cards in the US celebrating American warships, and in Great Britain depicting British warships.
Singer sewing machines, the backs of the cards boasted, were "standard equipment" on these ships.
In fact, Singer sewing machines became an indispensable part of the equipment of every army, all around the world.
During World War I Singer plants were volunteered for the war effort by the company. Singer's Elizabethport, New Jersey plant made 75-mm cannons in addition to the famous .45 automatic pistol. Its Scottish plant in Clydebank, the largest in the world, produced a wide range of munitions and armaments, while its Russian plant in Podolsk began producing artillery shells.
This postcard was posted in 1915 by a Russian soldier: "Dear mother and father. Since I'm an official of the Union my military conscription was postponed until January. I'm writing to you from Podolsk, where I'm working at setting in place an artillery shell plant at this factory."
While the Russian plant was nationalized by the Bolsheviks after the war, during World War II Singer plants in the US, Canada, and Scotland once again retooled for the war effort, producing armaments ranging from automatic pistols and anti-aircraft guns to castings for aircraft engine piston rings and wooden propeller blades. Even Singer's cabinet plant in Thurso, Quebec, which produced fine veneers, was refitted to manufacture airplane wings.
The German Singer plant in Wittenberg produced uniforms and armaments for the other side.
Singer sewing machine sales plummeted after the war as the domestic market for sewing machines declined in developed countries while cheap, innovative models from Japan and Europe flooded the market. Looking to diversify, Singer gradually moved into the aerospace and defense industries, buying the famous "Link" aircraft simulator company and becoming, through its subsidiary General Precision, one of the biggest contractors to service the US Department of Defense during the Cold War.