Wilhelm Christian Weitling (1808 – 1871) was a tailor, inventor, and radical political activist. He immigrated from Germany and invented attachments for commercial sewing machines like devices for double-stitching and the button holes. Prior to his inventions, these had been done by hand and kept many families afloat with piece work by the women and children of poor areas in NYC.
Weitling was raised in dire poverty, while his mother made a meager living as a maid and cook. His father, who never married his mother, was killed in war before Wilhelm turned 5. His education was limited to elementary school and any reading did on his own at the local library. He still learned not only German, but French and eventually English and some Italian. He apprenticed with a tailor at an early age and was a skilled journeyman tailor by age 18.
He moved to Paris where he became politically active, an agitator and writer, he was published and translated in many languages. His work was mostly Marxist or Communist in tone and intent. He spent time in prison and after his release traveled many places including New York City. By 1850, he had made NYC his home and started publishing a monthly journal which grew to 4000 subscribers.
His attention turned to invention in his later years. He received nine patents for improvements to sewing machines, among which were double stitch, button hole and embroidery attachments. He received a patent for a dress-trimming crimper which he had worked on for 17 years, and on his death left several unfinished machines.
He died in NYC, leaving behind a wife and 6 children.