• FA-113485 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
  • FA-113487 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
  • FA-118303 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
Collection Area
Production Technology
Textiles and Clothing
Everyday Life - directions for use
1800 - 1849

Nähhand [sewing hand], Josef Madersperger, c 1830


A typically Austrian inventor and his fate: gifted yet impoverished, unheeded or wronged, yet tenacious in his endeavours, and ultimately buried in a grave without ceremony and forgotten after his death.

For decades stories of this kind were grist to the mill of contemporary patriotic journalism, whether it was Josef Ressel and his ship’s propeller, Peter Mitterhofer and the typewriter, or Johann Kravogl and the electrically powered wheel. The prototypes of their inventions are to be found at the Technisches Museum Wien, and it was here that these stories have long been cultivated. Today, a more sober-minded view is taken, with the emphasis now on a methodological comparison with other forerunners. The life stories of these gifted engineers and technicians are no less interesting for it, as the example of the Tyrolean tailor Josef Madersperger (1768-1859) shows.

Having moved from Kufstein to Vienna, Madersperger spent decades obstinately working on developing some sort of apparatus for machine sewing. In 1838 he donated the latest version of a ‘sewing hand’ to the Polytechnical Institute (present-day Technical University). Madersperger’s life story is patchy at best, with barely any first-hand accounts available. The story is all the more poignant for the fact that, shortly after his death at the St. Marx poorhouse just outside Vienna, there was a veritable boom in the popularity of sewing machines, which began in America. These machines were then mass-produced, fundamentally altering the working conditions in the clothing industry. And, to this day, the sewing machine is inseparably linked with the name Isaac Merrit Singer.

A few years ago Madersperger’s mechanism was rebuilt in two replicas for the TMW, one of which is on show at a sewing machine museum in Germany. With these newly built exhibits Madersperger’s ideas can easily be reconstructed at no risk to the historical apparatus. And the ‘aura’ of the original remains intact.

Manufacturer: Josef Madersperger, Vienna

Date of origin: c 1830

Inv.Nr. 12926/2
Member of