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Edward Clark was a respected patent attorney with a disreputable client by the name of Isaac Singer. This man outraged high society by having 25 children by three mistresses while being married to two other women. He was hot-headed, profane, arrogent and nearly illiterate, but he did do one unique thing. In 1851, he joined many patented ideas into the first sewing machine that really worked.

There were 10 patentable concepts in Singer's machine. Unfortunately, Singer only invented two of them. A more discreet man might have tried to disguise the infringments, but Singer was very bold. He even threatened to kick Elias Howe down a flight of stairs when he demanded royalty payments.

For 3 years the only suits being made were law suits. By 1854, lawyer Clark was thoroughly tired of this endless squabbling. Then a fortuitous thing happened.

All of the combatents found themselves staying in the same hotel, the Congress Hotel in Albany, preparing to appear in court the next morning against each other. Clark managed to get them all into a single room, and there he invented something almost as miraculous as the sewing machine itself.

Clark called it the Sewing Machine Combine. It was a legal agreement under which each of the competing patent holders agreed to allow each other access to all the patents required to make a successful machine. In exchange each time any of them produced a sewing machine they each paid $15 to a fund that was split up amongst the patent holders so that everyone got paid according to the worth of his contribution.

It was a triumph for equitable settlement and a model of ingenious conflict resolution.The Sewing Machine Combine lasted until Teddy Roosevelt and his trust busters busted it at the turn of the twentieth century.