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Towns & Industry (1860-1880)

Simkins Sewing Machines

Simkins Sewing Machine

A late 19th Century New Williams Sewing Machine, as sold by Miles Wesley Simkins

In late 1862, nineteen-year-old Miles Wesley Simkins found himself alone in Kingston with only $4.50 in his pocket. Shortly after his arrival in Kingston, Miles saw a Toronto based advertisement for a salesman in the Daily British Whig newspaper. To save money, he traveled as freight, and shipped himself as cargo in the hold of a ship sailing for Toronto. Upon his arrival, he found the source of the advertisement. He was hired as a sewing machine salesman and given a hand operated sewing machine for demonstrations. DISCOVER MOREReadmore Arrow

A natural salesman, Simkins soon found himself a very busy man, buying and selling so many machines in the Kingston area, he earned the nickname, "The Great Sewing Machine Man." Photographs often show him with his top hat, a trademark among salesmen. In 1866, he opened his own sewing machine store in Kingston. His first store was located at 9 Montreal Street, but as the city expanded, the store was moved to 366 Montreal Street. During this period, Miles left his store in the care of a trusted friend while he served in the militia to fight against Fenian Raiders from the United States, returning to his store in 1867.

Simkins then purchased a large lot in Newburgh with the goal of building a large new home complete with a showroom and repair shop. His twelve room home was built in five year stages as finances permitted. He started by building a wood house and kitchen using nails saved from crates, then a barn, then a house to rent. His twelve room home was complete by 1875. He claimed that over 2,000 feet of lumber used for building was taken from boxes and crates of sewing and knitting machines.

M.W. Simkins advertised frequently in local papers, including the Newburgh Reporter. Advertisements proclaimed Simkins' commitment to quality, and his satisfaction guarantee.

By 1878, he opened branch offices in Harrowsmith on the Kingston-Pembroke Railway line, and Napanee, on the Napanee Tamworth and Quebec line. People along the railway lines could easily access his services.

One of the earliest machines sold by Simkins was Abbott's hand or table sewing machine, manufactured in St. Catharines. According to advertisements, Simkins was an agent for a number of brands, including The New Williams, The White Sewing Machine Company, The Wonzer, The Weed, The Davis and Domestic, The Howe and Home, The Royal and Raymond. New Williams machines were particularly popular, well designed, with ornate covers that could be used to house the machine when not in use. People could order by mail, using his brilliantly lithographed postcards, that often depicted children and nature scenes. Purchasers were given instructions for threading, oiling, and using the machine, tips for performing ruffling and hemming, and printed manuals. Instructions could also be given in store.

When a large fire destroyed more than thirty buildings in the Village of Newburgh in 1887, Mr. Simkins was one of the key re-builders, earning him great esteem in the community. M.W. Simkins lived to be the oldest citizen of Newburgh, and turned 93 before passing away in the spring of 1936.

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