A History Of Elna, The “Other” Swiss Sewing Machine Brand

Sometimes Forgotten

As we all know, Switzerland is deservedly famous for its craftsmanship and manufacturing quality.  So much so that often many brands can be overlooked, not for lack of merit, but for the fact that almost every serious Swiss manufacturer is world-renowned. 

We’ve certainly been guilty of this when it’s come to Elna, one of the best and most influential sewing machine brands in the world.  So often Bernina is viewed as THE Swiss sewing machine company, but we can forget that there is still serious competition out there.  (Our regular readers know I'm a great Fan of Bernina and I have been to the factory in Switzerland for a private tour, which was fantastic.)

As you'll find out below, the History of Elna is an essential part of the history of the sewing machine.

War Time Beginnings 

Elna began life as Ateliers Mécaniques de Précision Tavaro SA, commonly known as Tavaro.  Founded in 1934, it was a division of the Tavannes Watch Company, which is now part of the Sandoz group.  The company was most well known for its clock-work artillery fuzes, a device used to detonate artillery shells at precise times to suit a chosen target.  At its height, Tavaro made up 11% of Switzerland's military exports to Nazi Germany. 

history of elna
Sectioned artillery fuze photographed in Hämeenlinna artillery museum

As the war went on, the Swiss government banned exports of war material to all sides, part of its play to remain completely neutral.  However, Tavaro ended up violating these restrictions by exporting parts to the UK, earning recognition from the British government.

The First Machine

Tavaro’s first sewing machine was in fact designed and prototyped by a Spanish engineer, Dr. Ramon Casas Robert.  According to the company’s history, the inventor was forced to emigrate to Switzerland due to the start of the Spanish Civil War.  There the penniless inventor sold his sewing machine patents to Tavera to raise funds.  The design, simply dubbed “Elna”, first left the factory in 1940.

history of elna
the “Grasshopper” in its original green

The first Elna, later nicknamed the “Grasshopper” due to its distinctive green coloring, was a major innovation for sewing machines.  It introduced many features that are now considered standard.  The most major innovation was its “free arm”, something that had only been included in industrial sewing machines.  Not only did this make the sewing process better, more efficient, and safer, but contributed to its famed portability.  The Elna was designed to be portable, only weighing 7kg (15.4lbs), and was made of aluminum instead of the standard cast iron.

Post War

By the end of the war, most of Europe's manufacturing economy was completely devastated and would take many years to recover.  Tavero, now renamed the Elna International Corp. SA, was in a strong position to dominate the post-war sewing machine exports.

When the Elna was introduced to the US it sold for $179, which adjusted to today’s prices, would be about $1900 USD.  Estimates for Elna’s production volume range from 65,000 all the way to half a million units, unfortunately, more specific records are difficult to find.

The first Elna was phased out in 1952, when it was replaced by the Supermatic, another well-known machine.

After the “Grasshopper”

The next most recognizable Elna machine was the iconic Lotus model.  Launched in 1968, it was extremely popular, following along with its heritage of reliability, portability, and innovation.  You can easily spot one out by its folding-out, petal-like sidings, which is where the Lotus gets its name.  The Lotus was so iconic that it has become a part of the Design Collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

history-of-elna
Elna Lotus ouverte du même modèle que la Museum of Modern Art

To The Present Day

In the later parts of the 20th century, as globalization forced global competition, the company saw a sharp decline.  Like most consumer goods, cheaper imports from Asia sharply undercut the European manufacturer.  In 1995 the company was absorbed by Janome, a famous Japanese manufacturer of sewing machines.  Today Elna lives on in its long-standing products lines and proud claims of honoring its Swiss quality heritage.

Thank you for reading, and please check out some of their machines if this article on the History of Elna has been of any interest to you.


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Anne
Anne

Hi thanks for the history of Elna. I have just been given my mother’s (90) elna su model 68 as she no longer sews. I cleaned it up, gave it a much needed service, found out how to fix the fact it wasn’t zigzagging and now it goes like a dream. Its missing its case and a few of the cams. I will use it as my second machine to my bernina 350PE.

Myrna McGee
Myrna McGee

I would make a cozy lounging outfit to enjoy during the winter months!!

Catherine Tapey

My aunt had an Elna in the 60s. She used it to help my mom sew for all of us…4 girls 1 boy.
My mom finally got a Necchi in 1965 and made many formals and wedding attendant dresses.

Gail Depuy
Gail Depuy

I love the Elna machine my mom had one it was beautifully made!

Cathy
Cathy

I had the Elna Supermatic Star Series that came in a blue hard carry case way back in the 70’s. The one side cover acted as an extended “table” for your material. I lost that one in a fire and replaced it with another Elna as well as the Elna 644 Overlocker in 2002. Now my children and grandchildren use it as well.
I an an ardent Elna supporter because they are just so easy to use and maintain.

Mayra Cecilia
Admin
Noble Member
Reply to  Cathy

Thank you for sharing!

Margaret Millar
Margaret Millar

I was given a Lotus sp for my 21st in 1970. Fabulous little machine and still going strong. So convenient to take on sewing days out.

Chrissy Deacon
Chrissy Deacon

I would.make a winter A Line skirt with this plaid fabric

Chrissy Deacon
Chrissy Deacon

I love Elnas and would love to win this awesome sewing machine to go with my Elna Elina sewing machine

Shirley Eagle
Shirley Eagle

I, also, loved reading the history of these machines. My mom got one when I was a baby and we all learned to sew on it, even my brothers. She didn’t get anything else until that one couldn’t be fixed anymore and Dad wanted her to have a fancy machine like they had on the sewing shows on TV! I forgot what kind that was. Thanks for this walk down the lane of history.

Mayra Cecilia
Admin
Noble Member
Reply to  Shirley Eagle

You are most welcome!

Linda VanderMolen
Linda VanderMolen

I had an Elna for over 40 years. It was a workhorse!

Mayra Cecilia
Admin
Noble Member

wow! 40 years!

Cynthia Junkin
Cynthia Junkin

Loved reading this history. Please let me know how to sign up for the giveaway.

Colleen Hartlen
Colleen Hartlen

My husband gifted me an Elna , in the mid 60’s, to replace my second hand Singer. It was a wonderful machine. When I was ready to move up to a model with embroidery capability, there was no local Elna support so I traded to another brand. I still have my Elna serger, 35 years old, which works perfectly. My machines are always in use and so receive regular servicing.

Jenni Elizabeth Early
Jenni Elizabeth Early

Pajamas!!

Carolyn Newsome
Carolyn Newsome

Mother had one of these original Elna machines and at age 9 or so I learned to sew on it. I loved the knee operation. The case also became the area that filled in the open area and provided a very wide workspace to the left of the needle. I often wonder what happened to the machine after I left home and a couple of moves.

CeCe Ainslie
CeCe Ainslie

A year ago my MIL passed away and a few of her kids was tossing out different sewing baskets, sewing chair and such. I asked if no one wanted them could I have them. In one were a set of cams for decorative stitches and a book. I asked if the had found the machine too, was told no no one had seen it. I was telling someone and they had 2 neither worked but gave them to me. Later at the estate auction for the family there was the Elba in a cabinet. Sort of a two tone blue. My daughter bought it and now we have it. I’m sure it needs cleaning and hope to have it checked out come next spring. Like reading the history and will look for more.

Mayra Cecilia
Admin
Noble Member
Reply to  CeCe Ainslie

Let us know how it turned out, model and year would be great to know.