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.
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.
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.
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.
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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