Needle, a slender steel instrument, pointed at one end and with an eye at the other, used for carrying the thread in sewing. Among uncivilized people, at a very early period, rude attempts were made to form needles or bodkins of bone and ivory, by means of which their garments might be. stitched together; but among the more refined nations of antiquity, as the Chinese, Hindoos, Egyptians, Assvrians, and Hebrews, fine needles must have been in common use. Pliny mentions needles of bronze for sewing and knitting as being in use in his day. and bronze needles of large size have been found in Egyptian tombs, which must have been made 4,000 years ago. Fine needles could not of course resist the consuming action of air and moisture for so great a length of time. The Spanish or steel needle was introduced into England in the time of Queen Elizabeth; but the process by which it was made was kept secret, and the art was unknown till the year 1650, when it was revived by Christopher Greening at Long Crenden in Buckinghamshire. Great improvements have since been introduced in needle making; and the "fine steel needles " of that period bear but a faint resemblance to the delicate and highly tempered needles of the present time.
The manufacture of needles is now carried on to a great extent in many villages in England, but principally at Redditch, about 12 m. from Birmingham, and from this obscure place a large portion of Europe, the British colonies, and the United States are supplied. They are also made at Aix-la-Chapelle and its suburb Bor-cette, the latter place being the principal seat of the manufacture on the continent. - Though extremely simple in its form and appearance, the needle requires many operations for its construction, passing through the hands of nearly 100 workmen. The wires of various sizes being furnished in coils to the needle maker, he selects such as are of equal diameter and clips them into pieces, each of the length of two needles, with large shears, which are fastened to the wall of the cutting room. After being straightened, they are pointed by applying them to small, rapidly revolving grindstones. The wires being pointed at both ends, the centre of each is flattened, and a groove is formed on either side, with a small indentation at the spot where the eye of the needle is to be made, which operation is performed by means of a stamping machine.
A bed of iron which contains the under half of the die or stamp is supported on a heavy stone, the upper half being attached to the bottom of a hammer, of about 12 lbs. weight, which is raised with the foot by means of a lever. The wires are dropped, one at a time, upon the iron bed, and the hammer is made to fall upon them with a sharp blow. The raised faces of the stamp produce indentations on the opposite sides of the wire; and though the operator adjusts each piece separately, yet he can stamp 2,000 wires or 4,000 needles in an hour. The work of eyeing the needles is performed by boys, who use small hand presses for the purpose. The lengths are next separated between the eyes by bending the lines of needles backward and forward. The points then being held firmly in a hand vice, the heads are filed to their proper shape. This completes the soft work, as it is called. The next process is hardening. The needles are now in a black, soft, dingy state; and in order to harden them they are placed on iron plates and brought to a red heat, when they are plunged into cold oil, after which they are again heated to a less temperature and more gradually cooled.
The scouring or cleaning is accomplished by laying the needles in heaps upon pieces of canvas, scattering them upon a quantity of soft soap, emery, and oil, and rolling them into bundles, which are closely wound with twine. Each bundle is from 2 to 3 ft. long and from 3 to 4 in. thick. These are placed in a scouring machine, which resembles a common mangle, and rolled backward and forward for 50 or 60 hours. The scouring and cleaning is continued for the best needles seven or eight days. When taken out of the canvas they are laid on tin plates, and a little girl is employed to place the heads all one way. This is done simply by wrapping a piece of wash leather around the fore finger, and pressing it against one end of the pile of needles, thus catching all the points which He in that direction. All the imperfect needles are then removed, the remainder are placed in rows upon metal plates with the eyes projecting over the edge, and a red-hot iron plate is brought sufficiently near to produce a dark blue film upon the heads, which indicates a proper temper. The very delicate operation of drilling, or removing the jagged portions from the interior of the eye, follows. This is performed by a woman who has before her a three-sided steel drill, revolving rapidly.
Taking the needles in her hand and arranging them in the form of a fan, she brings them successively under the action of the drill, first on one side and then on the other, after bevelling off the sharp edge of the eye where it communicates with the groove, which is called counter-sinking. The drilling of the eye is a modern improvement, and requires a very steady hand. The points are finished upon a small rotating stone, and then polished on a wheel covered with buff leather, slightly coated with polishing paste. Lastly they are counted into quarters of hundreds, folded in colored papers, and labelled. For exportation these are made up into packets containing from 20,000 to 60,000 each. The processes above described apply only to the finer sorts of needles. In the heavier kinds, such as harness, upholsterers', sail, mattress, and bookbinding needles, many of these operations are omitted. The French needles are generally made of iron wire which is converted in the course of the process by cementation into steel.
The manufacture by this method is less difficult, but the needles are decidedly inferior to the English.
The Needles, a cluster of five pyramidal rocks in the English channel, lying off the W. extremity of the isle of Wight. They are composed of thick strata of chalk alternating with very thin strata of black flint. The waves are continually producing changes in their form, and only three of the pyramids now stand prominently out of the water. In 1764 the principal one, which was 120 ft. high, fell down, and almost entirely disappeared.