Kenmore-branded sewing machines have been around for a long time, although sometimes offered sporadically. 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.
The name Kenmore first appeared on a sewing machine in 1913, but was dropped in 1919. The Kenmore brand reappeared in 1934 and was sold until World War II. During World War II, Sears stopped selling sewing machines due to shortages of materials. After the war, because of relaxed tariff restrictions on imports, companies in the United States began buying cheaper imported goods, and Sears was no exception. The company ended its sewing machine contract with White in 1958 and began putting the Kenmore brand on a succession of Japanese-made machines.
Sears sold the first Kenmore sewing machine in its 1913 fall catalog. It's described in the Sears Archives as a "four-drawer drop head sewing machine." After 1919, the Kenmore name wasn't used on its sewing machines again until 1934, when Sears contracted with the White Sewing Machine Company to manufacture all of its machines. White was making a machine called the Minnesota and another called the Franklin Rotary. Sears renamed the Franklin Rotary and began selling it as the Kenmore Standard Rotary in 1934. In 1939, Sears also sold a model named the Kenmore Deluxe Rotary and another known simply as the Kenmore Rotary. Sears sold 46 versions of Kenmore Rotary machines in the 1930s; Sears also sold the Kenmore Long Shuttle in 1938 and 1939, all in the model number 117 series.
Sears sold one sewing machine, the Kenmore, or Kenmore Imperial Rotary, model 117-59, in 1942. The company did not sell sewing machines after that until 1948. That year Sears offered two models of the Kenmore Rotary, 117-1191 and 117-141, along with one model of the Kenmore Supreme Rotary, 117-592; two models of the Kenmore 95 Rotary, 117-95 and 117-959; and one of the Kenmore Long Shuttle, 117-62.
In 1950, Sears again offered only one model of the Kenmore Rotary, model 117-169. The company gradually began selling more machines as the decade wore on. It offered 17 models of the Kenmore and Kenmore Rotary through 1959. In 1956, Sears began selling its first zig-zag machine, the Kenmore Zig-Zag Automatic, model 117-740. In the 1950s, Sears began dropping the Rotary designation and started identifying its machines by numbers. This was the start of the 120 series of sewing machines.
In the 1960s, Sears sold 113 models of Kenmore sewing machines, beginning with the 76, model 120-760. Also in the 1960s, buttonhole attachments and decorator attachments were available for some machines.
The 1976 Sears catalog offered the first Kenmore Convertible sewing machine. It featured a removable section that left just a narrow projection where the needle and faceplate were located, called the free arm. "Sleeves, armholes, cuffs and collars slip right on. Also pant legs," the ad explains. This feature is now common on sewing machines. In the 1970s, Kenmore was available in 68 models, from the 1020 to the 1980.