Selling a new way of life

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A seller of Singer sewing machines in the house of the Youth Association in Murole.

Besides bringing installment payments to a number of European countries, the Singer firm's London and Hamburg offices also pioneered the technique of selling directly door-to-door. In places like Finland, this method was immensely popular, in part because of how remote its settlements were. The arrival of a traveling salesman in such far-flung villages was often an event.

Travelling salesmen were usually identified with America - and many Finns were enormously fascinated wth the United States at the end of the nineteenth century. Many had emigrated to America, and a significant number later returned to their home countries. Re-emigrants brought their new experiences and knowledge to the old country, which stimulated growing interest in the newest achievements of American technology and lifestyle.

Singer sewing machines and American agricultural machinery began to spread to Finnish homes and farms. The scope of this expansion was so far-reaching that by the interwar period, travelers to northern Finland noticed that the Lapps' houses and nomad tents, although poor in equipment, were “not complete without their Singer”. Indeed "Singer" soon became the generic word for every sewing machine, regardless of its make.

How to cite this page


Slawomir Lotysz, 'Selling a new way of life', Inventing Europe,


  1. Kangasmaa, Eeva. The Lapps. New Haven: Printed by Human Relations Area Files, 1955.
  2. Gourlie, Norah. A Winter with Finnish Lapps. London: Blackie and Son, 1939. (quote on p. 78).
  3. Niitemaa, Vilho et al. Old Friends-Strong Ties: Finland Salutes U.S.A. Turku: Institute for Migration, 1976.

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New ways of making a living with a Singer sewing machine

Sewing machines are powerful things. As they spread around the world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, they allowed women - and men - to produce clothes rapidly, often copying the high fashions of the upper classes. The American company Singer made perhaps the largest impact, not through any technological innovation, but through local sales and marketing campaigns. Users across Europe began to use Singer sewing machines to make a living, in a number of ways.

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