This section is from the book "Scientific Sewing And Garment Cutting", by Antoinette Van Hoesen Wakeman. Also available from Amazon: Scientific Sewing And Garment Cutting: For Use In Schools And In The Home.
Did you ever consider how much work it must be to make a needle? Each one must be absolutely perfect or it would be utterly useless. And what a fine, delicate little instrument it is; very different indeed from the first needles used by mankind, which were made of fish bones.
In the first place, only the best steel wire can be used for needles; and this wire comes to the needle factory in great coils, and is cut with big shears into lengths sufficient for two needles. When these have been straightened, several thousands of them are packed into strong iron rings. These are heated red-hot, and then pressed onto an iron plate having two grooves in which the rings run. Constantly pressed by a slightly curved tool, back and forth they go until all the wires become perfectly even and straight.
The next thing to be done is to point both ends of these wires on a dry grindstone that revolves very fast indeed. There is a sort of hood over this flying stone to keep the steel dust away from the person who does this work, and a strong current of air helps to draw it away. Still there is so much of the fine steel dust all about, that some of it is breathed into the lungs, and the result is that the workers soon become ill, and it is necessary to secure others to take their places, so that the making of needles costs many lives each year. There has been a machine invented to do this work which does the grinding very rapidly, but not quite as well as it is done by hand.
When the needles have been ground, a groove is stamped in the center for the two eyes, for it must be remembered that each wire represents two needles. Through these stamped heads, the eye for each needle is punctured. Now the wire has become two needles, held together by a thin bit of steel. One hundred of these double needles are threaded onto two fine wires and clamped tightly together; the needles are then broken apart so that the head of each one can be rounded off with a file.
After the heads of the needles are rounded off, they are heated red-hot and plunged into an oil bath, and then once more heated. When they have cooled, they are put into bundles of several thousands each, are mixed with soft soap, oil, and emery powder, and tied up in canvas covers. They are then put into a machine that rolls them backward and forward until they are well scoured. When they have been taken out of the covers and washed, they are put into others containing putty-powder instead of emery. After this polishing process, the needles are unpacked, washed in an alkaline solution, and dried in sawdust. They are then put into trays, and are made parallel by a jerking motion. After this they are brought into one direction by a "header," who has a thick cushion on his finger into which he presses a large number of needles.
After the imperfect needles have been thrown out, the heads are blued by heating in a flame of gas. When this has been done, the needles are strung on a rough steel wire, over which is spread a fine paste of oil and emery, and are moved backward and forward until the eyes are perfectly smooth. After a final polishing on a rapidly revolving buff-wheel, the needles are assorted, put into papers, and are then ready for use.