13th February 2009 at 00:00

Who'd have thought a sewing machine factory would provide material for such an excellent exhibition? Singer, running at Clydebank Museum until the end of May, tells the story of what was the largest sewing machine factory in the world. Built in Clydebank, its workforce once numbered 16,000 and, in 1936, produced over 500,000 machines.

Visitors learn not only about the 100-year history of Singer in Clydebank (the factory closed in 1980), but about the Singer company itself, from its founding in New York in the 1850s by Isaac Singer, who sold his first machines at circuses and fairgrounds, to a peak in 1973 when worldwide sales reached $2.5 billion, ending with its demise in 1990.

From 1870 onwards, Singer advertising carried the distinctive red "S" initial, making it the world's first international brand. Singer promoted its products through direct advertising, as well as more subtle means, such as producing textbooks for home economics departments. Photographs show the reach of the brand, with salesmen setting out from Fort Worth, Texas in horse-drawn buggies; an Aboriginal family pictured with their treadle machine; and sailors using a Singer on board ship while a parrot looks on.

In its early days, conditions at the Clydebank factory were said to be "terrible". After a strike in 1911, following a cut in wages but an increase in the workload, more than 20 factory-based recreation clubs were set up to "get the workers on side".

During the Second World War, the factory produced parts for guns and airplanes. Although the premises were damaged during the Clydebank Blitz, the famous Singer clock (once the biggest in the world) remained unscathed, only to be ceremoniously demolished in 1963.

E maeve.dixon@west-dunbartonshire.gov.uk.

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