Kilbowie Factory, Clydebank, Scotland
In 1867 the Singer Company decided that the demand for their sewing machines in the UK was sufficiently high to open a local factory. Glasgow was selected for its iron making industries, cheap labour and possibly because at the time the General Manager of the US Singer Sewing Machine Company was George McKenzie, who was of Scottish decent. The company obtained a lease on land near Queen Street Station and machinery and machine parts were shipped over from the US. Demand for sewing machines outstripped production at the new plant and by 1873 a new larger factory was completed near Bridgeton Cross. By now Singer employed over 2,000 people in Scotland but still they could not produce enough machines.
In 1882 George McKenzie, the soon to become President of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, undertook the ground breaking ceremony on 46 acres of farmland at Kilbowie, Clydebank and the largest Singer factory in the world started to be built. Originally two main building were constructed, each 800ft long and 50ft wide and 3 storeys high. These were connected by three wings. Built above the middle wing was a huge 200ft tall clock tower with the ‘Singer’ name clearly displayed for all to see from miles around. 2-3/4 miles of railway lines were laid through the factory to connect the different departments such as the boiler room, foundry and shipping and to lines between Glasgow, Dumbarton and Helensburgh stations. Robert McAlpine and Co. were the building contractor and the factory was designed to be fire proof with water sprinklers, making it the most modern factory in Europe at that time.
From its opening in 1884 until 1943 the Kilbowie factory produced approximately 36,000,000 sewing machines. Singer was the world leader and sold more machines than all the other makers added together. At the height of it’s productiveness in the mid 1960’s, Singer employed over 16,000 workers but by the end of that decade compulsory redundancies were taking place and 10 years later the workforce was down to 5,000. Financial problems and lack of orders forced the world’s largest sewing machine factory to close in June 1980, bringing to an end over 100 years of sewing machine production in Scotland. The complex of buildings was demolished in 1998.