Saturday, October 15, 2022

Jacob Lanzit Buys a Sewing Machine


A young man with a machine

Jacob Saul Lanzit (1834-1907) came to the United States from Czernowitz in what is now Ukraine in 1858 in his mid-twenties. He kept a diary as he prepared for his journey and for about a year after his arrival. A copy in German is in Cincinnati's American Jewish Archives, donated by son Robert in 1957.

Without any English he had trouble finding a job in Chicago but he got work running a cigar stand and as a barkeeper...."Time passes; business gets worse." Chicago and the rest of the capitalistic world was recovering from the Panic of 1857, a devastating financial upheaval. 

Jacob returned to New York, peddled stationery and worked on his English. In January, 1859 he resolved "to learn a profession." Choosing between cigar making and operating a sewing machine he decided to take a six-week class "to sew on Singer's machine...Tuition $3." 

Ad from the Brooklyn Eagle, 1859. Wheeler & Wilson operators 
seemed in high demand, perhaps because the machine 
required more skill than Singer's.

1858 ad

"It is hard work, to be sure, but I am now in America; that means working."
Machine-stitched silk lining added to a man's coat

He found a job stitching linings in a factory that soon closed down. "I bought a machine for $40 and went without eating." 

He advertised his availability in the newspaper and found a job again making linings. By August with $20 in the bank and a sweetheart named Rachel (Rosa) Marx (Mark) he was optimistic. Times, however, remained tough. 

"Whenever I want to visualize a mean character, I can only use the word tailor." Arguing with his boss, he quit. "Still owed $17 on the machine. What could I do?" He began making linings on his own, achieving some success.

Machine-quilted yardage was often used as lining for crazy quilts in the 1880s.

Essex Street & Hester on  Manhattan's Lower East Side, about 1910.

 "I rented a larger apartment on Essex Street (rent $6.50) and began to have a lot of work."

Jacob and Rosie married in 1859 and in the 1860s raised at least 4 children.

New York Sun, 1866
Post-war demand for machine operators 

During the Civil War Jacob worked as a shirt maker and opened a "Fancy Goods" store on Canal Street. Rosa was a milliner.

In 1877 he was listed in a city directory as a shirtmaker, still living on Essex Street.

The 1880 census found them with two boys and two girls. Jacob was as a printer with his sons and daughter Gussie working in the shop. The eldest Henry eventually moved to Los Angeles and opened a print shop, which still may be in business.

In 1887 Jacob was looking for a bi-lingual employee.

See Jacob's grave and Rosa's at Find-A-Grave:

A talented machine operator stitched this
lining for a coat for President Abraham Lincoln, in the collection of 
Ford's Theatre National Historic Site. See a post: 

I read Jacob Lanzit's adventures in the sewing machine trade in Jacob Rader Marcus's 1955 collection Memoirs of American Jews , 1775-1865.


  1. very interesting and shows what ambition and perseverance required to survive in those days...