No.1 Bag Making Machine of 1881
What happens when a mechanic with an apparel machine background repairs a bag machine?
He founds Union Special.
A Better Way…
Jasper W. Corey was pretty good with sewing machines. At age 21 he began selling them with his brother. After four years he went to work for Singer Manufacturing Company. He invented the 2-to-1 rotary hook. Yes, Corey was pretty good with sewing machines.
By 1879 Corey had been working in the business for ten years, and was on his own and living in Dubuque, Iowa. He was asked to the Bemis Brothers factory in town to repair several Grover & Baker machines which were used in nearly all bag making factories. At that time, Bemis Brothers was the world’s largest manufacturer of cloth bags. Not being familiar with bag sewing, Corey asked if these machines were the best available for bag production. He was told yes, they were, but Bemis Brothers was still very unsatisfied with them anyway.
Corey then confidently declared to the Bemis people that he could make a machine that would be better for their work than the Grover & Baker machines. That declaration was the foundation of Union Special Machine Company.
Corey researched the market for an improved bag making machine. After assuring himself of the sale of several hundred to bag manufacturers, he made drawings of the mechanism for his invention and moved to Chicago. In the rear of the storefront where Corey set up office was a sewing machine repair shop operated by Lorenz Muther. Muther was an Austrian immigrant whose expertise in gunsmith trade and the manufacture of surgical instruments enabled him to become very skillful in the manufacture and repair of sewing machine parts and attachments. A friendship grew between the two men who came into contact daily during the course of business. Corey, noticing the large number of Grover & Baker machines repaired in Muther’s shop, related his similar experiences and spoke of his plans for an improved machine. The two men made an agreement to build a model machine together.
Russell G. Woodward, an expert sewing machine mechanic, was hired to construct the machine. Work on the new bag making machine began in the early spring of 1880. Although handicapped by a limited number of tools, Woodward completed the machine that summer. It was placed in the bag factory of M. J. Neahr and Company, Chicago, for a practical demonstration. For two weeks it ran alongside the Grover & Baker machines. Corey’s machine was able to produce more bags in the same time with greater ease and fewer repairs. Neahr and Company was so enthusiastic that they ordered twelve more.
A very favorable review of this new machine was published in the trade paper of the time, Sewing Machine Advance. The editor spoke in glowing terms of every aspect of the mechanism and its workmanship. He concluded his remarks with “The fact is, it is so perfectly made that the speed at which it may safely run is only limited by the ability of the operator. In all cases they instruct purchasers to speed the machines as rapidly as their best operators can handle the bags.”
Although the machine was quick, success was not. Corey and Muther met with some resistance to their invention. The Union Bag Machine came along just three years after the dissolution of the Sewing Machine Combination, which had released the sewing machine as a free article of manufacture. This made way for the formation of many small sewing machine factories. Manufacturers feared these new machines would become orphans and thus would experience the same difficulties in obtaining repair parts as they had with Grover & Baker machines. They were also wary of the increased speed, believing that even the quickest operator could never warrant such high machine speeds.
In the midst of this hesitance, Corey withdrew from the enterprise to pursue the study of medicine and moved to California. Woodward and Muther, out of desperation, appealed to friends for financial assistance. They attracted the attention of William Stanley North.
North came from a family that seemed to be drawn to machinery. Some members of his family forged the tool capital of America – New Britain, CT, while others operated the first steam engine in that state. He himself had previously co-owned a successful hardware business. With this background he was convinced that Woodward and Muther’s machine and its future were sound, and the two men’s venture could be made successful by applying good business principles. And so on July 18, 1881, the Union Bag Company was incorporated. He was elected the company’s first president.
W. S. North
To convince skeptics of the new Bag Machine and the company behind it, Union Bag Company started its own bag factory where machines could be seen in operation under actual factory conditions. In a short time, bag manufacturers realized the advantages of the machine and the company was able to discontinue manufacturing bags, concentrating its efforts on sewing machine development and production. The Union Bag Machine was accepted as the best and fastest on the market. Many were sold to the principal bag manufacturers throughout the country.