My Elna #1 (aka Grasshopper)
The Elna #1/Grasshopper stored it its case. The machine fits in the bottom section. The silver kneebar folds up and the bottom half folds in on itself while in the case. Immediately behind the freearm (not visible in this pic) is the accessory box.

In the top section, you can see the original manual and the two original oil cans (mine are black and green).

After finding my 1928 Singer 99-13, I thought I was done looking for vintage sewing machines. Then I found the Featherweight Fanatics e-mail list and my head began to spin with the possibilities. Instead of just a Featherweight to hunt for, I began to hear about this adorable little green Elna, nicknamed the Grasshopper. Then I saw my first one at a flea market, but it was missing a few important parts, like the power cord, the feed dog cover plate and all the attachments. But still, I was captivated by it! Bob Bannen, a great guy who sells gorgeous vintage machines, told me that the parts for these Elnas are hard to come by, so I should look for a complete machine. Good advice.

The exterior of the Grasshopper's army-surplus-looking case. The handle on the case is a strap of metal wrapped in rubber. Kneebar is extended (most of the kneebar is not visible in this picture).

Then one day, while hunting through a secondhand store, I found my Elna! It was in its case, closed up tight. The case looks like something that should be army surplus -- dark grey/green textured metal. More like a movie projector case than anything else. But once I opened the case, I saw that bright green interior and my heart began to race! Inside: the original manual (!), accessories box, both oil cans (they look like tiny propane torches), the gear reducer (to slow down the machine) and everything else! For a reasonable fee, I took it home. Couldn't believe my luck.


The Grasshopper inserted into the table. The right side of the case has a panel that is held shut with roller clips. When the clips are pulled back, the enameled inner panel is free to flip to the left where it sits on the top of the other part of the case. Nice, smooth work surface! Brilliant!

This machine in its case weighs about the same as a Featherweight in its case! (Wanna see my Featherweight?)

This Elna is brilliantly engineered. The case opens out into a sewing table that slips around the freearm.The kneebar is featherlight and folds in half when stored. When winding a bobbin, the needle is automatically disengaged. Those brilliant Swiss engineers!


Left: The Grasshopper in its table, from a different angle. The silver assembly above the ELNA name is the light switch and vent. The light bulb fits in the arm (right inside where the ELNA name is) and the black square is the toggle light switch. Solid as a rock.

Right: A closeup of the funky tension/thread assembly. The little half-circle plate to the left of the needle lifts up and the bobbin goes in there. Simple to thread (once you read the manual!). The feed dog cover plate is easy to remove (great for cleaning things out), but a bit tricky to replace. That may explain why the first Grasshopper I'd seen was missing this plate.


New info directly from the Elna company themselves:

The first Elna sewing machines and Elnapresses were first designed and manufactured in Geneva, Switzerland in 1934. The Elna #1 was designed by a refugee from the Spanish Civil War, Dr. Ramon Casas. The designs by Dr. Casas were produced and the first compact, portable, electric sewing machine with a free arm was produced in 1940. The Elna #1 was in production from 1940-1952.

Most welcome and latest info from J.W. (thank you!):

The reason why this machine has not a type number is that it originally was called TAVARO - type Elna, later Elna grew out to the brand name on it self). You ask how to date this machine and how many are made. I think I can give you at least half an answer.

The Elna 1 is made in three series with several modifications. The first series have a piece of leather string screwed in the counterpart of the knee-lever, that stops the flywheel when you take off your knee from the lever. The clamp that holds the peace of leather string is adjustable. Then next to the screw-button that locks the stitch-length lever is a second screw-button, that operates a small friction brake on the motor axis. This to make the motor turn very slowly when making embroideries. For this reason a pretty heavy motor was applied. Therefor you could see a bulge on the motor-housing to give way to one of the brush holders. The resitor unit therefor also was not mounted under the motor but behind it and totally different of construction.

Above the fly-wheel is a round lid, that must be opened to reach the crankshaft for lubrification (with gearbox oil!). On the first series this lid is nickel plated, on the last series it is made from eloxated aluminium with the name Elna on it. It had a pre-war mains connector with two round pins.

The second series of the Elna 1 differs only from the first series in the type of motor and the fact, that the friction brake is absent. It has the smaller motor and the flat motor-housing without bulge. It had the improved mains connector of the American type and the type number 500890 on a shield next to it.

The last series don't have the adjustable leather string fly-wheel brake anymore and the have the aluminium crankshaft cover as said.

The case of the first series was painted in glossy black lacqery with crackle effect. It had a leather carrying handle. The second series had the same case, but with the dark grey/green crinkle lacquery as used later.

The last series had a case with a plastic covered metal handle. The closing mecanism had also been improved. The Elna 1 you have is one of this last series.

I was told by a former employee of Tavaro, that the first prototype of this machine was made in 1936, but was not brought in production because Tavaro needed all its strenghts for the war industry. They manufactured all kinds of automatic machinery for self-timed explosives, as they still make high-tech devices for the weapon industry. After 1940 Switzerland fell more or less into isolation because of their neutrality politics. Due to that fact production for the weapon industry almost came to a standstill and the sewing machine came out of the closet again and went into production for the local market and a small quantity was exported to France during the war. This was the first series, made until 1946, then the second series came into production until 1949 and they were exported to the other countries of Western Europe. The Americans, who were stationed in Germany learned to know and appreciate it and took some machines home and from 1949 Elna became an official representative in the USA. The last series were produced from 1949 until 1952, when they were succeeded by the Supermatic.

The total amount of Elna 1's is estimated on 65.000. The first series ± 15.000, the second ± 20.000 and the third series ±30.000. But this is 'oral history' from an old man.

I myself have a small collection of only Swiss Elna machines (nowadays Elna is made by Singer and only a name. The Sewing Machine manufactury in Geneva has disappeared since almost 20 years), containing the Elna 1 in the first and the last version, the Supermatic 1 in the first and the last version, the Star SU, the Lotus SP and TSP, the Stella SP Air Electronic, the SU Air Electronic and the Elna Junior series 2 (a serious childrens chain stich machine). I also have the service documentation of all these machines. As a young man I have worked as a service specialist on household sewing machines, so I can repare and restore these mechanical machines easily.

I hope to have answered your questions more or less and I am glad to see that the good old Elna is appreciated by so many collectors like you. Take care of these machines. They represent an era of technical perfection that is gone by forever I'm afraid. Nowadays we live in a culture of trow-away-trash that will last for decades I fear.

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