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Cash for Sewing Machines

What Obama’s trade-in program owes to the Singer company

Gabriel Sanders
August 06, 2009
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The “Cash for Clunkers” concept is nothing new, technology historian Edward Tenner wrote the other day in blog post for The Atlantic. It was an idea employed already a century and half ago by Isaac Merritt Singer and Edward Clark, the duo that founded the Singer Sewing Machine Company. Flush with confidence in the quality of their designs, the pair took out an ad in 1857 encouraging consumers to trade in their older models for new ones:

These worthless Machines now stand directly in the way of the sale of good ones. Their existence causes great pecuniary loss to us…. We, therefore, have an extensive and direct interest in having all bad Sewing Machines finally withdrawn from the market, and our new improved ones substituted in their place.

As a result of the gambit, Singer sales grew that year by 50 percent, and the fortune that those sales helped amass brings us back into the world of 21st-century politics and ideas. The New Republic magazine owes its current existence, at least in part, to the fortune inherited by Singer heiress Anne Peretz, wife of TNR editor-in-chief and part owner Martin Peretz. Ironically enough, recent posts on The Vine, TNR’s environment and energy blog, have been lukewarm on “Cash for Clunkers,” arguing that the program’s potential environmental benefits will, in the end, be quite modest.

Vested Interests [The Atlantic]

Gabriel Sanders is Tablet’s director of business development.

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