But Wilson continued to work on a farm until he was sixteen, meanwhile learning the blacksmith's trade. In 1840 he apprenticed himself to a cabinet-maker at Cincinnatus, Cortland County, New York.
After learning this trade he again took the road and worked as journeyman cabinet-maker in various parts of the East and Middle West.
In 1847, while employed at his trade at Adrian, Michigan, he conceived the idea of a sewing machine without having heard of or seen one, but illness and poverty prevented him from converting his idea into a practical form at that time.
The following year, however, while employed at Pittsfield, Massachusetts, he progressed to the point of preparing full-sized drawings, and on February 3, 1849, began the construction of his first machine. The machine was very crude, but Wilson could sew with it, and it possessed one very interesting feature, that of a double-pointed shuttle which moved in a curved path and formed a stitch at each forward and backward stroke.
In order to acquire sufficient money to secure a patent, Wilson induced Joseph N. Chapin of North Adams, Massachusetts, to buy a half interest in the invention for $200, and with this he secured a United States patent on November 12, 1850. During the year that this patent was pending Wilson was threatened with a lawsuit by the owners of another patent covering a double-pointed shuttle. In view of the fact that he had no money with which to defend himself, he compromised by conveying half of his patent interest to E. Lee & Company of New York, and agreed to assist in the manufacture and sale of the machines. Shortly after securing his patent he sold all of his interests to the company for $2000, reserving only the rights to manufacture the machine in New Jersey and to use it to sew leather in Massachusetts. Just before this Wilson had met Nathaniel Wheeler, who was so much interested in the invention that he contracted with E. Lee & Company to make five hundred of the machines and persuaded Wilson to remove to Watertown, Connecticut, to superintend the work.
Wilson meanwhile had devised on paper the rotary hook and bobbin as a substitute for the double-pointed shuttle. Devoting his first attention to developing this new contrivance, he obtained a patent on August 12, 1851. Wheeler thereupon took Wilson into partnership with him under the name of Wheeler, Wilson & Company, and began the manufacture of sewing machines with Wilson's new improvement, leaving E. Lee & Company to shift for itself. With Wheeler in charge of the commercial side of the business, which was an immediate success, Wilson contrived a stationary bobbin which became a permanent feature of the Wheeler & Wilson sewing machine.
He then turned to the improvement of the feeding mechanism of the sewing machine, and on December 19, 1854, obtained patent No. 12, 116 for his four-motion feed, a fundamental invention used on all later sewing machines. Before this patent was issued, however, on account of ill health, and at his own request, Wilson was relieved from active service and responsibility in the company. Thereafter until his death he devoted himself to other inventions, such as cotton-picking machines, and devices for photography and for the manufacture of illuminating gas. Allen B. Wilson died on April 29, 1888, and was buried at Waterbury, Connecticut.
In 1850, Allen B. Wilson married Harriet Emeline Brooks, by whom he had a daughter.