Excelsior Needle Company

March 2nd Celebrates Excelsior Needle Company

Today on Day’s to Remember, we celebrate how on March 2nd1866 the Excelsior Needle Company began making sewing machine needles.

So what’s so exciting about the sewing needle?

Did you know The Torrington Company was a firm that developed in Torrington, Connecticut, emerging as a rename from the Excelsior Needle Company?
A familiar theme in American folklore, manifested itself in classic fashion on two notable occasions during the 19th century, both which occurred in the state of Connecticut, where the drive for technological advancement and the spirit of innovation were firmly rooted in the hearts of its citizens.

Connecticut was home to several inventive “Nutmeggers,” including Samuel Colt, who developed the first revolver, Eli Whitney, whose invention of the cotton gin revolutionized the cotton industry, and Elias Howe, a transplanted “Nutmegger” from neighboring Massachusetts who made his life’s discovery in New Hartford, Connecticut, where he recorded the first of two landmark achievements that would launch the predecessor to The Torrington Company into business, which how the sewing needle poked its way through history.

In 1846, Elias Howe designed an early version of the sewing machine. Howe’s invention represented a historic advancement in technology to be sure, but there were critical problems with his new machine that made its usefulness not quite the labor-saving device it purported to be.

The chief problem with Howe’s machine was the ineffectiveness of the needles it employed; Howe, in essence, had created a razor without the blades. In the years following his discovery, the sewing needles that existed were imprecise pins of steel hammered out essentially the same way a blacksmith formed a horseshoe.

It was a crude method that produced imperfect results, frequently leaving the purchasers of Howe’s machine with broken needles they had pounded out by hand. Twenty years would pass before a suitable solution was found.

The solution arrived at first unbeknownst to its creators in 1864, when another transplanted “Nutmegger,” a former Vermont toolmaker, Orrin L. Hopson, and his associate, Herman P. Brooks, made their own pivotal discovery in Waterbury, Connecticut.

In Wolcottville, the central part of the city of Torrington, which had been for years a hub of numerous light-manufacturing activities, Hopson and Brooks convinced seven local businessmen that their machine could produce sewing machine needle blanks superior to those already in existence.

By the mid-1870s, Excelsior Needle was churning out 30,000 sewing needles a day, six days a week, and generating approximately $75,000 a year in sales.

Soon thereafter, the company’s sales volume rose even further above that level. The solid foundation Excelsior Needle had established during its first decade by helping to create a new American industry provided a stable springboard for growth that carried the company through the 1880s and toward its first defining decade.

Excelsior Needle continued to diversify, forming a subsidiary named Torrington Swaging Company, to manufacture spokes for bicycle wheels. (This was in response to a new feature of the sewing machine industry that took shape during the 1890s: Sewing machine manufacturers, led by the Singer Company, had begun to manufacture bicycles in increasing numbers.)

As we celebrate how on March 2nd1866 the Excelsior Needle Company began making sewing machine needles.

Written & Designed by JD Mitchell


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