Helen Blanchard

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Helen Augusta Blanchard
Helen augusta blanchard.jpg
Helen Augusta Blanchard. Source: Willard and Livermore, American Women, Mast, Crowell & Kirkpatrick, 1897, 97
Born(1840-10-25)October 25, 1840
Portland, Maine
DiedJanuary 12, 1922(1922-01-12) (aged 81)
Providence, Rhode Island

Helen Augusta Blanchard (25 October 1840 – January 12, 1922) was an American inventor who received 28 patents between 1873 and 1915. She was known for her numerous inventions dealing with sewing machines and sewing technology.

Early life[edit]

Blanchard was born in Portland, Maine on October 25, 1840 to a wealthy family. Her father was Nathaniel Blanchard, a shipowner and businessman; her mother was Phoebe Buxton Blanchard. Helen was one of six children; two other daughters Louise Phobe, and Persis E., and three sons David H., Augustus, and Albus. Helen demonstrated an inventive turn of mind at an early age, but did not receive her first patent until she was over thirty, after the fall of her father's business. There is no indication that she received any mechanical or technical education, despite her patents being involved mostly in these subjects.[1]

First inventions and move to Boston – 1870s[edit]

Her father suffered financial losses as a result of the business panic of 1866, resulting in the loss of the family homestead. Nathaniel died, leaving his family with financial troubles. Helen Blanchard moved to Boston, Massachusetts and patented several inventions relating to sewing machines in 1873 and 1875.[2]:518 This included the Blanchard over-seaming-machine, which could simultaneously sew and trim knitted fabrics.[3]

Philadelphia and New York – late 1870s–1890s[edit]

After developing techniques for zigzag stitching and over seaming, Blanchard moved to Philadelphia, where she established the Blanchard Overseaming Company of Philadelphia to market her inventions in the late 1870s or early 1880s. She also founded the Blanchard Hosiery Machine Company in 1882. She moved to New York in the early 1890s, and continued to patent a variety of inventions, including a pencil sharpener [4] and a hat sewing machine.[2]:520

Later life and legacy[edit]

Having profited from her commercial ventures, Blanchard was able to buy back the family homestead in Portland, and moved back there in 1901. She continued to patent inventions until suffering a stroke in 1916. She died in Providence, RI, in 1922 and is buried in the family plot in Portland's Evergreen Cemetery. .[2]:520[5] It is unclear what became of her property and wealth after her death. However, she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006.[6]


Helen Blanchard received 28 patents over about 45 years, 22 of which involved sewing and sewing machines. Many of these inventions have been referenced by other inventors in their own designs.

1873-Improvement in Sewing Machines[7]

  • This invention created a way to form a buttonhole stitch, or a zig-zag stitch, that when used to close a seam gave strength to the piece. The stitch could be varied in several different ways, such as varying the depth of the needle. The original sewing machine with this adaptation is currently housed in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

1875- Improvement in Elastic Seams for Garments[8]

  • This invention is a method of stitching that produces a strong elastic stitch with minimal alterations to the material used in the process besides adjusting the tension of the fabric.

1875- Improvement in Elastic Goring for Shoes[9]

  • This invention is a way to strengthen shoes by reinforcing the goring keeping the pieces of shoe together. A series of rows of stitches made from one strand of regular thread and one rubber thread is used to create a type of goring that could withstand more movement compared to the previous method.

1876- Improvement in Welted and Covered Seams[10]

  • This invention is a method for which two edges of material, once stitched together to form a seam, could be made flat. This could be done by either inserting a welt or by sewing a strip over the seam.

1883- Spool Case[11]

  • This invention is a simple cover for spools of silk, cotton, thread, or other material, that protects the spool from becoming dirty, damaged, or unwound.

1893- Method of Securing Reeds or Cords to the Edges of Material[12]

  • This invention is a method of securing reeds or cords to the edges of materials, especially securing reeds to hat sweatbands. This is done by folding the edges of the material around the reed or cord before sewing.

1893- Sewing-Needle[13]

  • This invention is an improvement to the sewing needle, by making it possible to thread the needle with one hand for efficiency. This is done by adding a latch that allows the needle to open, making it possible for the user to place the thread in the slot instead of threading it through a hole.

1894- Surgical Needle[14]

  • This invention is an improvement to previous surgical needles. The needle has a lancet point which allows it to pierce skin easily with minimal resistance and therefore less pain to the patient. The notch on the backside of the needle allows the thread to disconnect from the needle by just withdrawing from the skin.

1900- Sewing Machine Needle[15]

  • This invention is a type of needle used in sewing machines where one or more thread is used to form stitches. The needle has the ability to pierce the goods to be sewed, and contains a notch that supplies another thread to create the stitch.

1901- Seam for Sewed Articles[16]

  • This invention is a way to connect two edges of material, specifically knit fabrics, and over edging. This method uses a series of loops made from a single thread going through the two edges of the material to create a seam.

1901- Hat Sewing Machine[17]

  • This invention is an adaptation to the sewing machine that allows it to stitch a common chain stitch with one thread to be used to sew sweatbands and strips of linen onto the inside edge of the hat. Previously, this work had been done by hand, so this machine increased the rate of production by simplifying the work needed to be done.

1914- Method of Selvage-Sewing[18]

  • This invention is a method for primarily bringing together the edges of selvage knit goods, but can also be used with other fabric for decorative uses. This method helps smooth out curls in fabric and helps create a flat seam that was not previously possible.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stanley, Autumn. Mothers and Daughters of Invention: Notes for a Revised History of Technology. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers U, 1995. Print.
  2. ^ a b c Stanley, Autumn (1993). Mothers and Daughters of Invention. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.
  3. ^ Francis E. Wilard; et al. (2005). Great American Women of the 19th Century: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Humanity Books. p. 117.
  4. ^ (U.S. Patent No. 304,900 issued September 9, 1884)
  5. ^ Day, Lance; McNeil, Ian (1998). Biographical Dictionary of the History of Technology (1. publ. in paperback. ed.). London: Routledge. ISBN 0415193990.
  6. ^ "Spotlight | National Inventors Hall of Fame". Invent.org. 2013-11-21. Archived from the original on 2016-08-14. Retrieved 2016-05-29.
  7. ^ Blanchard, Helen A. Improvement in Sewing Machines. Helen A Blanchard, assignee. Patent US141987. 19 Aug. 1873. Print.
  8. ^ Blanchard, Helen A. Improvement in Elastic Seams for Garments. Helen A Blanchard, assignee. Patent US162019. 13 Apr. 1875. Print.
  9. ^ Blanchard, Helen A. Improvement in Elastic Goring for Shoes. Helen A Blanchard, assignee. Patent US167732. 14 Sept. 1875. Print.
  10. ^ Blanchard, Helen A. Improvement in Welted and Covered Seams. Helen A Blanchard, assignee. Patent US174764. 14 Mar. 1876. Print.
  11. ^ Blanchard, Helen A. Spool-Case. Helen A Blanchard, assignee. Patent US276344. 24 Apr. 1883. Print.
  12. ^ Blanchard, Helen A. METHOD OF SECURING REEDS OR CORDS TO THE EDGES OF MATERIALS. Helen A Blanchard, assignee. Patent US496929. 9 May 1893. Print.
  13. ^ Blanchard, Helen A. Sewing-Needle. Helen A Blanchard, assignee. Patent US500556. 4 July 1893. Print.
  14. ^ Blanchard, Helen A. Surgical Needle. Helen A Blanchard, assignee. Patent US527263 A. 9 Oct. 1894. Print.
  15. ^ Blanchard, Helen A. Sewing Machine Needle. Helen A Blanchard, assignee. Patent US659999. 16 Oct. 1900. Print.
  16. ^ Blanchard, Helen A. SEAM FOR SEWED ARTICLES. Helen A Blanchard, assignee. Patent US683902. 8 Oct. 1901. Print.
  17. ^ Blanchard, Helen A. Hat-Sewing Machine. Helen A Blanchard, assignee. Patent US684176. 8 Oct. 1901. Print.
  18. ^ Blanchard, Helen A. Method of Selvage-Sewing. Helen A Blanchard, assignee. Patent US1089816. 10 Mar. 1914. Print.