Isaac Merritt Singer
Isaac Merritt Singer was an inventor who founded the first company to mass produce sewing machines for household use. His rags-to-riches story began when he ran away from his New York home at the age of 12. He traveled around doing odd jobs, eventually setting himself up as a mechanic by day and a flamboyant actor by night. While in Illinois, he invented a rock drilling machine (1839) and sold the patent, using the proceeds to finance a traveling theater troupe. By 1851 he was back in New York, and his improvements on a sewing machine turned out to be the source of his fortune. Even though he lost a patent lawsuit to inventor Elias Howe (1854), Singer's manufacturing process was so successful his financial penalties to Howe hardly mattered. Thanks to his business partner, Edward Clark, Singer's sewing machine company used radically new marketing and sales systems that made Singer the household name for sewing machines, and within a decade Singer retired a wealthy man, leaving his New York mansions behind for a leisurely life in England. They say he left the U.S. for Europe after his reputation for being a womanizer caused too much scandal (it's said he fathered more than a dozen children out of wedlock).