The Union Special, known to most by that name in the denim community, is the industrial sewing machine 43200G manufactured by Union Special. Originally manufactured in 1939, it was widely acclaimed to the point that it made the cover of The Needle’s Eye February edition of that year.
The release article published in the magazine proclaimed it to be the newest and finest edition of Edge Lock machines designed for hemming overalls, jackets and other similar garments. For the next 50 years the 43200G was ‘the’ go-to American machine and it’s distinct ‘rope look’ on the hem became the American industry standard.
However in the 1960’s Japanese denim manufacturers started aquiring these machine. In 1989, when Union Special stopped manufacturing them, it created a void in the market place for the ‘classic look’. Specialty denim shops in North America began trying to buy them up but the Japanese had effectively beaten them to the punch.
So – what is it about the Union Special that makes it so special?
The saying: “They don’t make things like they used to” has never been more true. Before textile and garment manufacturers were shut down in droves here in North America and the machines that manufactured those goods were shipped to Asia denim was made here.
Old school American made denim is like nothing else being produced today. Maybe people are just nostalgic for denim that looks like our grandparents used to wear. More likely we are drawn to a certain quality that inexpensive machines with built in obsolescence can’t produce.
So this is where we are now. The limited number of machines that are still in operation need constant care and maintenance since the last machine was manufactured in 1989. When the last of the machines breakdown – we will lose a look that has been the signature of denim from the early part of the last century.
Many thanks to Doug Kanies at Union Special for all his help.