The Kenmores

This page is for the Kenmores in our collection. My internet search for the Kenmore’s history reveals the following. I appreciate all of the people that contributed to documenting this history and I give all credit to them for this content.

Kenmore-branded sewing machines have been around for a long time. Kenmore is a brand name used by Sears Roebuck — now Sears — to identify the appliances it sells, and the manufacturers have varied over the years. For 20 years, from 1938 to 1958, the White Sewing Machine Company produced every Kenmore sewing machine. Since then, Sears has contracted with different manufacturers to make its sewing machines, mostly for economic reasons.

Sears Roebuck & Co. was second only to the Singer Manufacturing Company as a North American sewing machine supplier. Sears Roebuck was a mail order supplier so unlike Singer, did not manufacture sewing machines. Instead, Sears relied on contracts with different sewing machine manufacturers and rebadged their machines. The White Sewing Machine Company, along with the Domestic Sewing Machine company supplied Kenmore branded machines. Eventually White grew in prominence and eventually became the sole sewing machine supplier for Sears Roebuck. Early Kenmore branded machines were in essence, White Rotarys in disguise. White machines were highly regarded and often considered comparable in quality to Singers.

Sears earliest record of an organized sewing machine department, showing Sears own brand name machine, the Minnesota, appeared in the 1894 Sears catalog.  The brand name Kenmore appeared for the first time in the 1913 Fall catalog, but the name was dropped in the Fall of 1919 and did not appear again until 1934.  At that time, it was re-introduced and sold concurrently with the Minnesota name until World War II.

During this period, materials were scarce and sewing machines were dropped from the catalog.  After the war the “Minnesota” was discarded and replaced by Kenmore. The Kenmore branded sewing machines were predominantly made by the Domestic Sewing Machine Company until 1938, and then the White Sewing Machine Company up to and after World War 2.

After the war, Sears began importing machines made in Japan. The company ended its sewing machine contract with White in 1958 and began putting the Kenmore brand on a succession of Japanese-made machines.  Some of the manufacturer’s Sears contracted for the Kenmore brand is determined by the model number. These include model numbers beginning with 117 manufactured by White, model numbers beginning with 120 manufactured by New Process Gear Corporation, model numbers beginning with 148 manufactured by Soryu in Japan, model numbers beginning with 158 manufactured by Maruzen in Japan (later changed name to Jaguar), and model numbers beginning with 385 manufactured by Janome.

Kenmore machines, along with many other imported clones, offered features on domestic machines not available on Singer machines (or others) while maintaining a high level of quality.  The Kenmore sewing machine is well regarded for its heavy-duty construction and quality of manufacture. These vintage sewing machines (prior to about 1975) are constructed of an all-metal case and parts, excluding the plastic cams. Because of this construction, they have gained a reputation as a high quality sewing machine worth consideration and comparison for purchase with other high quality sewing machines.

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