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article number 346
article date 05-27-2014
copyright 2014 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
A Big Feet in Manufacturing … We Make Shoes by Machine, 1860’s
by M. A. Green, United Shoe Machine Company

From the 1924 book, A Popular History of American Invention. Original chapter title, “How Shoes are Made by Machine.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: There is one important definition to know before reading this article. A “last” is a form, mimicking the shape of the human foot. “Lasting” is the shoemaker’s laborious operation of forming a [leather] upper part of the shoe.

IN all civilized ages but ours the cobbler with his hog’s bristles waxed to thread, his lapstone, knee-clamp, hammer, pincers, awl, knives, paste-horn, and Fblacking-pot has made boots and shoes with tools practically unchanged.

Shoemakers’ tools taken from the ruins of Roman villages and even from more ancient tombs differ little from those in use when the United States army shoe of 1860 was made. But, suddenly, sewing-machines run first by hand and treadle, and then by horse-power or by steam, began stitching first the parts of shoe-uppers, then uppers to the soles.

Fig. 1. Workman measuring a foot.
Fig. 2. Workman looking for the last he needs. (probably the man looking on the shelves)
Fig. 3. Workman stitching a sole.
Fig. 4. Workman putting a boot over a last.
Here is the whole picture. Don’t expect to find the following items which are part of the picture.
Figs. 5 and 6. Two journeymen.
- a,b,c, rows of different lasts.
- d, bootlasts.
- e, ready-made boots.
- f, Measuring-tapes.
- g, vamp pattern.
- h, table laden with various tools.
Fig. 1. Pincers.
Fig. 2. Cutting nippers.
Fig. 3. Brisith type of lasting pincers.
Fig. 4. Rand-forming tool.
Fig. 5. Boxwood polishing-tool.
Fig. 6. Shoemaker’s knives.
Fig. 7. Boot transferred to Fig. 48.
Fig. 8. (No. 1), Boxwood rubbing stick.
Fig. 8. (No. 2), Cropping-knife.
Fig. 9. Scratch bone.
Fig. 10. Three-flange hob-nail.
Fig. 11. Two-flange hob-nail.
Fig. 12. Lasting-stick.
Fig. 13. Wire tack.
Fig. 14. Shoe-measuring stick.
Fig. 15. Square-shank sewing-needle.
Fig. 16. Hammer.
Fig. 17. Man’s overshoe.
Fig. 18. Woman’s overshoe.
Fig. 19. English type of seam-setting tool.
Fig. 20. Spreading-tool.
Fig. 21. Star stamp.
Figs. 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, A, B, C, D, E, F, British type of awl.
Fig. 28. (No. 1), Last
Fig. 28. (No. 2), Expansible form.
Fig. 28. (No. 3), Another type of expansible form.
Fig. 29. A boot-tree.
Fig. 29, No. 2. A trimming-stick.
Fig. 30. A military jack-boot.
Fig. 31. Shoemaker’s strap.
Fig. 32. Bunch of bristles.
Fig. 33. Moulding-block.
Fig. 34. Shoe-stretcher.
Fig. 35. Thread-holder.
Fig. 36. Interior of thread-holder.
Fig. 37. Curved sewing-awl.
Fig. 38. Wax cup.
Fig. 39. Cutting-block.
Fig. 40. A vamp.
Fig. 41. A sole.
Fig. 42. A foxing or quarter with strap.
Fig. 43. Low shoe. A. Vamp. B. Quarter. C. Strap. D. Heel.
Fig. 44. Adjustable spur-holder.
Fig. 45. Removable spur.
Fig. 46. Cockscomb. spur.
Fig. 47. Jack-boot (dragoon.)
Fig. 48. Jack-boot.
Fig. 49. Officer boot (infantry.)
Fig. 50. Loop-laced garter or legging.
Fig. 51. Postilion boot.
Fig. 52. Kettle for tempering leather.

By another year many Northern shoemakers enlisted and let the machines do it. So far as the public knew, it all came about like the lifting of a theatre curtain, but the stage-setting meant a glum century of experiments, and we must go to Europe for the beginning of it.

Thomas Saint, a London cabinetmaker living in the parish of St. Sepulchre, invented in 1790 the first known leather sewing-machine, unless we class as sewing-machines certain devices for embroidering gloves. The Saint machine was designed to sew “shoes, boots, spatterdashes, clogs, and other articles.”

The needle used had a notch near the point, but no eye; this notch pushed the thread through a hole made by an awl on the previous stroke of an overhanging arm and formed a loop with the bent point of the needle. This loop was carried over a former loop, leaving a chain of loops on the under side, and seems to have been the prototype of the stitch perfected by Willcox and Gibbs years later in America.

These and other interesting things about the sewing-machine needle can be found in the chapter on “Making Clothes by Machine.” Saint had the key to great possibilities in the shoe-machinery line, but he was unable to open the door.


Twenty years later, 1810, an inventor in England made and ran a range of sixteen machines that turned out shoes with soles nailed to the uppers. He brought it within reach of the English public and the English public did not care for it.

On a day in January, 1809, a Frenchman was standing on the wharf at Portsmouth, England. He had escaped the terrors of the French Revolution by boarding a packet bound for America, where he was naturalized as a citizen in 1796, and, after a short career as civil engineer and architect, had settled in London. He watched in evident pain the landing of wounded soldiers from troopships fresh from Spain, where Napoleon was overrunning the Peninsula.

Their feet were shoeless and bound about with filthy rags. He knew this misery came from dishonest army shoe contractors, who had put clay between two thin outer soles to give them the proper weight and had blacked them to give them the proper appearance.

His indignation resulted in his making an emergency shoe, nailed, and its leather cut and finished by machinery.

The name of this man was Marc Isambard Brunel; he was afterward knighted for building a tunnel under the Thames River. His son was architect of the “Great Eastern” steamship.

Within a year after the disgraceful scene on Portsmouth dock. Brunel designed and built upon the banks of the Thames a chain of machines producing nailed army shoes, the soles also studded with fine nails. Twenty-four one-legged soldiers from Chelsea Hospital soon learned to operate the machines.

The sole was cut on a cast-iron frame and the upper was stretched over a cast-iron last and securely clamped. The driving of the nails through the outer sole, upper leather, and inner sole was done by the up-and-down stroke of a rod carrying on its end an awl and hammer, the iron last revolving in a way to bring the rim of the sole to the base of the falling rod.

A trial consignment of shoes for the Thirteenth British Regiment established the superiority of the Brunel type over the army shoe. He was given orders by the government, and his factory turned out 400 pairs a day. But when Napoleon escaped from Elba in March, 1815, followed by more fighting, about 30,000 pairs of Brunel army shoes remained undistributed in the government stores.

Brunel stored his surplus and protested. Lord Palmerston, newly installed in the war office, dropped in at the Brunel shoe factory and learned that the inventor’s losses of over $15,000 were caused by the failure of the government to keep its word. The minister turned to Lord Rosslyn and remarked: “We must take this from Mr. Brunel.”


Waterloo and a second peace overtook Brunel, who became disgusted with broken promises, and he was elbowed into the bureau of claims with still further losses. A contractor’s lobby and the hostility of shoemakers’ guilds must share the responsibility for a part of this shabby treatment.

When later he made for the public, shoes, water-boots, half-boots, fashionable shoes, and Wellington boots, Brunel continued to lose, although he sold a common walking shoe for $1.20 when leather was about forty-seven cents a pound.

Brunel then went out of the shoe-machinery business. American shoe-pegging machines appeared some twenty years later, but the next machine gang that completed a nailed shoe was put on the market by Colonel McKay over fifty years after Brunel’s successful invention and business failure in nailed shoes.

A strange fatality kept England out of the industries built upon the machine-stitching of leather until America gave the hint. This seems all the more remarkable from the fact that an English machinist, Thomas Archbold, of Leicester, while making improvements in machine-stitching for a glove manufacturer named Edward Newton, applied the principle of the eye-pointed needle in 1841.

Three years later James Gibbons, a Nottingham merchant, an old hand at lace-making, invented a curved eye-pointed needle, which was the central thought of the Howe needle used in connection with a shuttle. If Gibbons had only lifted his eyes from lace to leather and cloth, he might have seen a Canaan of future factories clothing and shoeing the world by means of machinery.


Devices multiplied in America for fleshing, hairing, and breaking hides, as well as splitting, rolling, cutting, and crimping leather. One can turn over the pages for 200 years from the landing of the Pilgrims without finding any novelty in mechanical shoe construction that survived the man who devised it. In the thirties of the nineteenth century, Parker’s leather-splitting machine and Preston’s device for pegging shoe-soles had some vogue.

In 1845, Gilmore’s rolling-machine for hardening sole-leather proved to be a labor-saver, as it could do in a minute or two what formerly required half an hour’s pounding of hammer on lap-stone.

From 1812 to 1833, the date of Samuel Preston’s shoe-pegger, there were eleven patents taken out for attaching soles by means of pegs. The Preston contrivance was awkward enough to handle, but cobblers used it as late as the Civil War.

Anticipating for the moment the story of this symptom of shoe machinery, no great advance was made in pegging machines until B. F. Sturtevant perfected the “peg strip” under the patronage of Elmer Townsend, a Boston auctioneer.

The peg strip is a thin ribbon of wood cut across the grain, and wide enough to split into peg lengths. Sturtevant’s contribution was a method of compressing the peg strip between hot rollers, so that the moisture was withdrawn from the wood and the peg reduced in size. When driven into the sole it absorbed the moisture of the leather and expanded, making a secure fastening.

Sturtevant and associated inventors demonstrated the feasibility of a machine-pegger, which retired all others from the market. By the Sturtevant method the pegging was done upon the shoe-last.

Years later John F. Davey introduced a horn-pegging device, something on the principle of the Blake rotary horn in sewing. Sidney W. Winslow and his experts united the virtues of the Sturtevant and Davey machines, and this was later refined by the United Shoe Machinery Company.

Pegs can now be split and driven at the rate of 350 per minute. Seventy-five years ago many farmers’ boys made pin-money by whittling shoe-pegs during their winter evenings. A whole pegged shoe can now be made in the time a boy could whittle a handful of pegs.



The real story of the machine-made shoe begins with the Howe eye-pointed curved needle operating with an under shuttle. It was this invention that inspired a whole generation of inventors working on the two specialties of cloth and leather stitching.

In a larger way invention had hit a high-water mark in the forties. In the year 1844 Goodyear the elder had hardened rubber by the use of sulphur; Howe had invented the sewing-machine; and the news of the nomination of Polk for President, sent from Baltimore to Washington over the Morse “magnetic telegraph,” constituted the first public despatch over the only telegraph line in the country.

Howe’s invention of the domestic sewing-machine was almost immediately applied to the machine-sewing of leather by the boot-and-shoe trade, and this branch of the art had so advanced by the time of King Edward VII of England that he fell into the habit of sending regular orders for shoes to Lynn, for himself and his royal family.

India produced the kid pelts, Massachusetts tanned the leather and made the shoes on a chain of cutting, sewing, and finishing machines, and all his Majesty had to do was to wear and enjoy them.

Beau Brummel thought it a good act to employ separate makers for his right boot and his left; but American machinery did better, for King Edward and the world by putting the old hand-tooled boot and shoe out of commission.

The leather stitchers of the Singer factories are now equipped for sixty machine operations, of which about one-third are used in sewing uppers for boots and shoes, an important business in itself.

The work of bottoming and finishing the shoe led to the founding of another immense industry. Three men of notable personal gifts are identified with the history of bringing one hundred and more operations under machine control in order to bottom boots and shoes.

The first is Gordon McKay, who, after making an emergency army shoe in 1861 with stitched soles, gave most of his attention to metallic fastenings of soles.

The second is Charles Goodyear, Jr., who began by promoting the invention of machines for stitching “turned” shoes, and won distinction by developing machines for stitching together the inner sole, upper, welt, and outer sole, without permitting the needle to pierce the upper surface of the insole.

And, finally, Sidney W. Winslow speeded the invention of machinery for lasting shoes, and made the master-stroke that brought all three into one company in 1899.

These three men cannot be called inventors. They had the gift of forecasting new methods of manufacture, the patience to hunt up machine experts, the art of interesting capital, and the ability to market their machines when made. Few men have created and perfected a more difficult business.

We have now to deal with a forty years’ wandering in the wilderness of invention, ending in 1899, when the three groups of shoe-machinery interests joined in forming the United Shoe Machinery Company.



About three years before the breaking out of the Civil War a mechanic, once the manager of a large machine-shop in Lowell, Massachusetts, watched intently a cobbler operating a machine for sewing soles to uppers in a little room on Tremont Row, Boston. The cobbler invented it and had given an option of purchase to some Lynn shoe manufacturers for $50,000.

The mechanic, a Scotchman, offered the cobbler $70,000, in case the Lynn men did not buy, $8,000 to be paid in cash and $62,000 out of the earnings of the machine. The moment the option expired the Scotchman handed $8,000 to the patentee. The Lynn men appeared with their $50,000 immediately afterward. It took a seven years’ lawsuit to establish the Scotchman’s right to the cobbler’s patent.

Gordon McKay was the purchaser and Lyman R. Blake the inventor. The Blake leather-stitcher, put into shape under McKay’s eye and refined later by United Shoe Machinery experts, is still doing service in shoemaking.

THE ORIGINAL BLAKE MACHINE. This was invented shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War. Blake lasted the shoe in the old way. Then he withdrew the last or wooden model of the foot over which the upper had been fitted to admit a stationary horn bearing a thread and looping device that wound the thread around and into the barb of an eyeless hooked needle. Thus a lock-stitch was formed, and a seam closed which held together the outer sole, the upper, and the insole. It was this invention which Gordon McKay bought.

In 1857 cobbler Blake conducted a contract-stitching room at South Abington, Massachusetts, for sewing the tops of boots. A sweep pulled by an old horse furnished the power to machinery that could stitch three thicknesses of leather. Both the Singer and Howe machines of that date could do it easily.

Blake was somewhat of a character in Abington. At one time he wanted to make wheels to be attached to boots, a generation before roller-skate days. People smiled. Now he wanted to sew soles with the needle used by the machine to sew three thicknesses of leather.

“Not with the firm’s money,” replied his partners, who would not meet the expenses of experiments.

A local wheelwright, however, and a brother-in-law machinist, a few dollars of his own, and hard work after hours to complete wooden models for the wheelwright to make casting moulds, comprised the equipment that produced the original model of the world-known sewing-machine, patented first in 1858, and later by McKay and Blake, and by McKay and Mathies, another brother-in-law of Blake.

Blake lasted the shoe in the old way, that is, he fitted the uppers snugly over a wooden model of the foot and temporarily fastened on the sole. Then he withdrew the wooden model or last to admit a stationary horn bearing a thread and looping device or whirl which wound the thread around and into the barb of an eyeless, hooked needle, forming a lock-stitch and closing a seam that held together the outer sole, the upper, and the insole.

As the stationary horn could sew only the sides, leaving the toe and heel to be nailed, Mathies devised a rotary horn with complete success.

McKay kept his Scotch eye on stock dividends as well as public service, and at first undervalued the inventor’s part of it. Blake took his $8,000 cash and, on account of his lungs, went to Staunton, Virginia, where he opened a shoe-store.

McKay wrote him several times to return, as his experts “thus far have fallen down on the job completely.” The gathering war clouds and a private tip of warning as to the danger of a Northern man’s remaining in business in the South settled it; and Blake with his family rode on the last train out of Richmond bound for Washington in the spring of 1861. The Confederates seized his stock of goods and his money.



The government needed shoes for the army, and the hand method of making them took time. Blake soon began to adapt the machine to army-shoe sewing, working with others under great pressure. For McKay, the war could not have come at a more fitting time.

The manufacturers did not fancy the notion of offending their hand operatives by introducing labor-saving machines; nor did they care to increase their capital to invest in them; but a government order for 25,000 pairs of shoes or “bootees,” as these brogans were called, put the shoe manufacturers in a more serious frame of mind and scored for McKay the first of a brilliant series of successes in making shoes by machinery.

To meet government specifications, Mathies channelled a track for the seam on the sole. After sewing in this channel the machine left it and continued the seam round and round toward the centre on the flat surface to strengthen the sole.

Blake trained operatives to sew shoes for the Massachusetts Light Artillery Company, and he set up machines in many shoe factories with orders to hasten the work on army shoes.

The New England shoe-manufacturers were substantial people and co-operated in the war work. Seth Bryant, of Joppa Village, East Bridgewater, had been so disgusted at a pair of frail, ill-sewed shoes made in France and worn by a member of Washington’s special guard, that he had made army shoes a study.

When the call of 1861 came he carried to Gordon McKay a sample of shoes having two rows of seams about the soles stitched with large hemp thread. He was soon running McKay machines practically after his Joppa sample. Generally, however, the quilted bottom shoe prevailed. All these army shoes were “straights,” that is, they were not rights and lefts.

Scattered through New England, and in shoe and leather districts of the country, small cobblers’ shops or shops containing teams of five cobblers made shoes on a division-of-labor basis. The urgency of the government for soldiers’ foot-wear became so great that these teams were increased to six, and there sprang up factories large enough for several teams, all making “fade-aways,” which were pegged shoes with imitation seam-marks made by a wheel.

They were called “fudge welts,” and a six-handed team working from seven in the morning until nine at night could turn out fifteen pairs a day. Asa How, a shoemaker of Rowley, Massachusetts, in recalling those exciting days says:

“And so in that little old shop in Rowley we six cordwainers made fudge army shoes for Uncle Sam during the last six months of 1861 through ‘62 and ‘63. And then, early in ‘64, as Uncle Sam could now get McKay sewed shoes a plenty, five of our number, including myself, enlisted.”

In some factories the old-fashioned shoemaker with a “fudge welt” on his last worked beside the operator of the McKay machine. A Haverhill shoemaker received his first McKay machine in 1862 and, as it had no channelling attachment, a local gunmaker fixed up for him a tool for bevelling, which served until the McKay channelling-machine appeared.

In the first rush to supply the army, many pegged shoes were made and accepted by the government; but the McKay stitcher gained in favor as the machines came into use from the factories overworked to produce them.

Mayor Peter Neal, of Lynn, Massachusetts, a Quaker, took occasion at the White House to explain to the President that the McKay machine could sew around the sole of a shoe in thirty seconds. Mr. Lincoln remarked: “Friend Neal, go home and buy real estate. The day of little country shops is coming to an end. Shoes will be made in big factories in cities.”

The early McKay machine continued to be worked over by experts, and it soon turned out 600 pairs a day, though part of the finishing had to be done by hand. The United Shoe Machinery Company continued to simplify the machine until it stitched 1,260 pairs a day.



When McKay lost the government as a customer on the return of peace, he lost the cream of his new business, as he had been forced to rent out his machines, dividing equally with the manufacturer the saving in labor cost. He picked up the notion of selling royalty stamps to be put on each pair of shoes made by his machines from a doctor next door to him on Tremont Street, who charged a royalty on the manufacture of a health shoe of his invention.

When the Blake patent expired in 1872, his application for an extension raised a storm of protests, particularly among Western shoe-manufacturers. When McKay undertook to explain to the trade at a meeting in Cincinnati why the extension should in justice be granted to him, the feeling became so intense that he rode out of the city in a cab rather than run the risk of being mobbed.

After the extension, factory men, even in the East, took the small stock premium offered them as an inducement to buy the McKay royalty stamps as a joke. But when the McKay stock had climbed in the market from five to seventy dollars, it proved the best joke of that and many seasons, for it laid the foundation of scores of private fortunes in New England.

An Albany, New York, shoe-manufacturer with aesthetic tastes, pasted these gilded premium shares on his office walls, and the next tenant first painted and then wall-papered over them. Years later, the shoe-manufacturer who owned the stock was unsuccessful in excavating and recovering his precious wall pictures. The joke was on him.

In 1863 English shoe-manufacturers paid Blake’s expenses to cross the Atlantic and demonstrate the McKay machine. He had a happier time of it than did Elias Howe, for the McKay people knew something about doing business.

In Blake’s plea for an extension in 1872 he estimated that 200 million pairs of shoes had been sewn on his machines, at a saving of eighteen cents a pair over the cobbled product. When the extension had been granted, the McKay company renewed the contract with Blake.


Unfortunately, consumption fastened upon him and he died in 1883, in Newton, Massachusetts, only forty-eight.

Blake’s talents were recognized both here and abroad; but as much cannot be said about his brother-in-law, Robert H. Mathies, the inventor of the rotary horn still in service as a McKay machine feature. His revenue never went above the mechanic’s wage, and, desperately concluding that it never would, he took his own life.

Gordon McKay’s metallic-fastening interests centred in Winchester, Massachusetts, but for twenty years he lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and enjoyed the society of the college community and the distinction that public service brings. Most of the revenue from the four million dollars willed by him to Harvard University for the department of mechanical science will be left to increase until it reaches about twenty-two million dollars.

It is a coincidence worth noting that Cambridge is identified with the troublous beginnings of machine-sewing of boots and shoes. Here Howe built his first model; here Singer made his first experiments, and here McKay lived in the days of his prosperity and planned a school of mechanical science that will remain a permanent memorial to him.

After the fall of Richmond, McKay took up the problem of nailing shoe-soles. He hired inventors, bought inventions, and gradually made metallic fastenings a success for the stouter grades of boots and shoes.

John Mundell, a Philadelphia shoe-manufacturer, exhibited at the Centennial of 1876 a French machine which rotated a wire with screw-threads into the sole, then cut off the section left in the leather.

The War Department adopted the type which was built on a last cut to the shape of the foot; but the nails proved a conductor of cold, leaving a dot of frost on the stockings. Later the government adopted the Goodyear sewed welt shoe for the army and navy.

About the time that Mundell was exhibiting the French wire-nailing invention, Louis Goddu, a French-Canadian shoemaker, turned his attention to the subject. His first screw-machine held the coil of wire in a revolving kettle suspended from the ceiling, with pressure enough from its weight to worm the screw-cut wire into the leather.

McKay bought it, as he did other devices for attaching soles by nails or screws. A thin slip-sole inserted in the shoe protected the foot from the cold nails. McKay’s name is identified with the introduction of the first shoes, either stitched or nailed by machine, that came into general use.

GORDON McKAY. Gordon McKay was the founder of the shoe-machinery industry. His chance came with the Civil War with an order for 2,500 “bootees,” to be worn by soldiers, and to be made on Blake machines. In his will he left $4 million to Harvard University for the department of mechanical science.

Before footwear reached anything like a fixed standard, there were many stages of refinement for grace and comfort for machinery to accomplish. Men of learning tell us that the human foot is the largest and most tender of any in the animal kingdom in proportion to size of body, because it was the last to come down from the tree-tops.

The artificial protection of the foot has kept it tender, and it is the glory of machinery that this protection has been done gracefully. A cobbler is credited with the saying: “As a man walks, so he is, and the shoe tells the tale.”

The modern shoe cannot climb a tree, but it is more a part of a foot than the cobbled “straights” of past ages. Fashionable people at first poked fun at the “crooked shoes,” as rights and lefts were called. The McKay army shoes were straights; so were the shoes of fashion down to about the time of the Civil War; and women’s shoes continued straight till well into the eighties.

LOUIS GODDU. Louis Goddu (1837-1919) was a French-Canadian who was one of the most prolific inventors of tacking and nailing machinery. At the time of his death over 300 patents had been issued in his name.
THE LOOSE NAILING-MACHINE. The rounding operation simply includes that portion of the shoe to which the welt has been sewn, and leaves the heel-seat without attention. This is first nailed to the shoe on the loose nailing-machine (here shown), in which small brass nails, driven automatically, fasten this portion of the sole leather securely. It is then trimmed by another machine to conform to the shape of the heel. This machine is capable of driving nails at the rate of 350 per minute.


Style in the modern shoe of comfort is associated with the name of Charles Goodyear, Jr., who after years of toil and trouble added a rare touch of refinement in adroit machine motions and a novelty of design that pleased the eye and eased the foot.

Like Elias Howe, young Goodyear grew up in a family where invention was the prevailing thought and where poverty became almost an invited guest as the constant search for new ideas went on.

Charles Goodyear was born in Germantown in 1833, near Philadelphia, where his father invented and manufactured domestic hardware and finally gained fame in hardening rubber. Shortly before the death of his father, young Goodyear tried his hand at making shoe-machinery and at the opening of the Civil War he was president of the American Shoe-tip Company.

His vision went straight to a complete machine-made shoe, and it was his good-fortune to run across Auguste Destouy, a French machinist, in 1864, who had invented a machine for stitching light “turned” shoes.

Three years later Goodyear engaged as superintendent a German named Christian Dancel, who for the next twenty-five years improved not only the “turn” machine but made many inventions down to 1892, when he perfected a curved-needle machine for sewing welts with a lock-stitch while the shoe was on the last. This exploit alone stamped Dancel as a master.

CHRISTIAN DANCEL. Christian Dancel (1847-1897) was engaged by Goodyear as superintendent. Dancel was the foremost sewing-machine expert of his time, and improved not only the “turn” machine, but made many inventions down to 1892, when he perfected the curved-needle machine for sewing welts with a lock-stitch while the shoe was on the last. His solution of the stitch-forming problem made the Goodyear welt system a success.

James Hanan, the Brooklyn shoe-manufacturer, brought Goodyear and Destouy together in a little shop on Church Street, New York city, where the Frenchman was working on a sewing-machine for “turns,” Hanan being his patron. The old-time shoemaker sewed women’s shoes “inside out” and then turned them. If he could turn them without starting the seams, he was classed as an expert workman.

The Destouy machine for “turns” had two stitch movements. On one side was a curved awl and a curved needle, the awl, by advancing the leather, acting as a feed. On the other side of the machine a needle, straight and forked, operated in sewing harnesses, the thread being pushed through the hole made by the awl. It could thus do both light and heavy leather stitching.

Goodyear bought Destouy’s invention, but James Hanan, as well as his son, John H., never broke away from the Goodyear group. David Mills, an English machinist, improved the Destouy stitch by giving greater rigidity to the needle, but it was years later before the “take-up” or setting of the stitch was so perfected as to resist the beating-out process to get an even thickness to the sole.

ONE OF TWO ESSENTIAL MACHINES IN THE GOODYEAR WELT SYSTEM. The welt of a shoe is a narrow strip of prepared leather, which is sewn along the edge of a shoe, beginning where the heel is placed and ending at the same spot on the opposite edge. This welt is sewn from inside the lip of the insole, so that the needle passes through the lip, upper, and welt, uniting all three securely and allowing the welt to protrude.

The welt was once sewn entirely by hand, so that each stitch had to be drawn by main strength. It is impossible for a cobbler to draw stitches all day long with the same tension. The work is now done by the Goodyear welt machine, which has been the leading factor in revolutionizing shoemaking. Its stitches are all of equal length and are measured automatically. The strong linen waxed thread is drawn evenly and tightly.
THE INSOLE TACKING-MACHINE. The insole tacking-machine drives tacks which temporarily hold the insole to the bottom of the last. This last, which is made of wood, is of the utmost importance, for upon its form depends the shape of the shoe.

While the Goodyear company, with its factory in New York city, had worked out the turn-machine problem in making ladies’ shoes, the marketing of “turns” moved slowly; and during a season of depression when he seriously thought of abandoning the enterprise, he turned, as Howe had done, to Europe. His uncle organized an English company, and Goodyear himself went to London in 1870.

He returned the following year and began anew by organizing his business as the Goodyear Boot and Shoe Machinery Company. It was then that Dancel did his most brilliant work for the company. By adding a welt guide he produced, in 1874, a machine that could sew welts as well as turns.

The promoter, with the true spirit of leadership, insisted that the ambition of his corps of experts should be the making a perfect welt shoe as though it were made by hand. His instructions were to avoid penetrating the inside of the insole so as not to interfere with the stocking.

The welt is a narrow strip or ribbon of firm leather placed about the rim of the shoe in a way to permit one edge to be stitched to the upper and insole, the other edge being stitched to the outer sole.

Shoemakers as far back as the fifteenth century used the welt on high-grade boots and shoes, and the American shoemakers became expert in making them, though the extra expense prevented their common use. Machinery popularized the welt in this country.

Dancel, after some years, during which he made an unsuccessful attempt to run a shop of his own, delivered to the company a great machine. It could lock-stitch the outer sole with a curved needle while the shoe was on the last. The Goodyears bought it in 1885.

The final act in this drama of invention was a curved-needle machine that sewed welts upon the shoe with a chain-stitch when the shoe was on the last, the welt, upper, and insole being caught by one stroke of the needle.

THE SECOND OF TWO ESSENTIAL MACHINES IN THE GOODYEAR WELT SYSTEM. The Goodyear outsole rapid lock-stitch machine is a rotary-shuttle machine forming a lock-stitch which sews the outsole to the welt. The stitch is fine, and extends from the channel which was cut for it to the upper side of the welt, where it shows even after the shoe has been finished.

The thoroughly waxed thread holds the outsole securely in place, even after the connecting stitches have been worn off. It is able to sew even in the narrow shank, where a straight needle could not possibly place its stitch.


As the Goodyear and McKay groups of inventors continually overlapped each other, their work drove the two companies into courts of law. It was war between them from 1876 to 1880, but in that year the Goodyear and McKay Association was formed.

The McKay company turned over its patent rights in turn-shoe machinery of its own invention to the new company, while the Goodyears assigned its rights in welt and turn machines. This left the McKay group free to push its machines for making the heavier grades of boots and shoes, including its metallic fastenings, for bottoming shoes.

After an experience of fifteen years, the McKay interests were sold to the Goodyear shareholders. This tendency toward consolidating under one management the various factories making machinery for different operations, proved to be the salvation of the shoe industry.

CHARLES GOODYEAR. Charles Goodyear was the son of the discoverer of the process of vulcanizing rubber. He became one of the foremost figures in the shoe-machinery industry by successfully organizing and introducing the machines for making shoes according to the Goodyear welt system.

Howe and Singer had been twice saved from financial straits by two strangers, Colonel Bliss and Lawyer Clark. Charles Goodyear, in the darkest hour of his career, found his savior in Jonathan Munyon.

The latter, a director of the Bay State Shoe and Leather Company of Brooklyn, New York, and Worcester, Massachusetts, was informed that some Goodyear directors, holding certain stock and rights in foreign patents as security for loans to Goodyear, were acting as though they planned to take from the inventor the whole business by demanding prompt payment.

Munyon rescued Goodyear by raising the money and recovering the security. The consolidation with the McKay interests followed. Munyon had a genius for putting goods on the market, and both the turn and welt business flourished under his management. When Goodyear retired in 1888 Munyon succeeded him as president.

S. V. A. Hunter, who had served as treasurer and manager, was sent to England, where Charles Goodyear and his uncle had introduced the twin machines. He gave a dinner at Northampton, the company’s headquarters, to the leading shoe-manufacturers of that district.

They accepted the dinner, but not the American machine; indeed, Manfield & Sons, shoe-manufacturers and dealers, declined a $1,500 offer for window space in one or two of their shops, for the purpose of demonstrating Goodyear machines. They contended that the popular prejudice against welt machines would injure them.

This prejudice sprang mainly from the labor element and was by no means confined to England. Some dealers here and abroad were not above palming off the Goodyear for “genuine hand-welt” shoes; while, on the other hand, labor-union shoemakers were even known to cut open the seams to show their Goodyear origin.

The last word on Goodyear welts had not been spoken when the promoter retired from active business, for the United Shoe Machinery experts had not yet added the finishing touches. Before the union of the three shoe-machinery groups, a McKay machine could stitch a pair of ladies’ shoes in thirteen minutes, using forty-two machines with fifty-seven different machine operations.

After the starting of the United Shoe Machinery Company it became possible in building a shoe of extreme fashion—a Polish Goodyear welt shoe with perforated vamps, foxings, and outside panel, eyelet, and stays—to perform as many as 210 operations. Of these, 174 could be performed on 155 different machines and the rest by hand. But the average Goodyear welt shoe of business is the product of a string of from about twenty-five to forty machines.

THE GOODYEAR SOLE-LAYING MACHINE. In the Goodyear sole-laying machine is a rubber pad or mould which conforms with the curve in the sole of the shoe. After the shoe has been jacked in position over the rubber mould, the outsole, having been previously coated with rubber cement, is placed against the bottom of the shoe; the operator presses a foot-lever, causing the machine to force the shoe down into the mould, so that every portion of the outsole is pressed against the bottom of the shoe and welt. The shoe is allowed to remain in position for a length of time for the cement to set.

The operation is duplicated on another part of the machine, one shoe being left under pressure while another is being prepared.
THE GOODYEAR ROUNDING AND CHANNELLING MACHINE. The sole and welt of a shoe are trimmed so that they will protrude a uniform distance from the edge of the shoe. This work is performed on the Goodyear rounding and channelling machine, which gauges the distance exactly from the edge of the last. The operator is able to change the width of the edge at will.

By the use of this remarkable machine, the operator is also able to make the sole conform exactly to all other soles of similar size and design. Simultaneously with the rounding operation the machine cuts a little channel or slit along the edge of the sole, in much the same manner as the work was done on the insole. This portion of the work was formerly a very difficult and costly hand operation, but seems simplicity itself when done by this machine.


To understand how the mass of machine problems became reduced to a system, one must first realize what trouble the experts had in substituting metal for human fingers in pulling over the upper on a last and in bottoming a shoe. We can best get at the heart of this story by following the acts of Winslow and his experts forming the third of the great shoe-machinery groups.

Sidney W. Winslow, leader of the third group, was born at Brewster, Massachusetts, in 1854, five years before McKay bought Blake’s patent, which really started the shoe-machinery game.

Young Winslow learned his trade in his father’s shoe factory at Salem. The father, a Cape Cod cobbler and sea captain, had abandoned the work-bench for machine-sewing, and the son had a good chance to witness both the glories and the shadows of the new day that broke over the shoe industry.

The old shoemakers had no more use for machinery than for artillery in their shops. The call to arms in 1861 put patriotism ahead of shop and factory jealousies, and McKay machines multiplied without much opposition from organized labor.

But peace between the North and South started rumblings of discontent in the factories. Clashes between operatives and their employers extending over a long series of years did not disturb young Winslow’s faith in the new order of things. The neighboring city of Lynn was the last to give in.

The Lynn shoemakers boasted of the strongest organization of shoe-workers in the land—the Lynn Lasters’ Union—and there the closing battles of that period were fought. In recalling this chapter of shoe history a local paper in 1889 said:

“Finally in a series of pitched battles, which drove many Lynn manufacturers out of the city or out of business, the Lasters’ Union was at last forced to yield to machinery, and crippled by its expenditures and loss of members, viewed with sullen hatred machines introduced in almost every factory, and the union men forced to work them or give place to non-union men who were provided to take their places by the machinery companies.

“To-day there is no opposition manifested and amiable relations prevail between the Lasters’ Union and the great machinery combine. Preference is given to union lasters in working the machines, and hand lasters, many of them middle-aged or old men, are learning to run the machines.”

This was in 1889, when Winslow was thirty-five years old. He had just invested in a lasting company owning a lasting-machine destined to complete the series of machines required for shoemaking. The story of it dated back nine years when an attempt to introduce it roused the “aristocracy,” as the lasters were called in the factories.

IT COST $900,000 TO PERFECT THIS PULLING-OVER MACHINE. It was once thought to be absolutely impossible to fit an upper to the last satisfactorily by machine. A corps of inventors attacked this problem, and after spending over $900,000, solved it by producing this “pulling-over” machine. Pincers grasp the leather at different points on each side of the toe, and the operator, standing in a position from which he can see when the upper is exactly centred, presses a foot-lever. The pincers then close and draw the leather securely against the wood of the last. At this point the machine halts. By moving different levers the workman is able to adjust the shoe-upper exactly, so that each part of it lies in the correct position.

When this important operation is completed the operator again presses a foot-lever, the pincers move toward each other, drawing the leather securely against the last, and at the same time three tacks are automatically driven on each side and one at the toe to hold the upper securely in position. These tacks are driven only partly so that they can later be removed.


In the shoe factory of Harney Brothers, at Lynn, in 1878, there was an alien mechanic who knew more about machinery than the English language. He operated a McKay stitcher for turn-shoes and a burnishing-machine; he was brown in complexion with crinkly hair and an interesting if not comely face.

His father, born in Holland, had been sent to Dutch Guiana, South America, to superintend government work, and had married a native woman. Their son, Jan Ernst Matzeliger, had been well trained under his father’s eye as a machinist and had come to the States to seek his fortune.

Such was the Harney Brothers’ alien operative. He found shop conditions unsettled by the introduction of machinery. Not being a shoemaker, he had no use for those who hated machines. He particularly resented the boast of the lasters that no inventor could substitute iron for human fingers in lasting a shoe. This he disputed in broken English and the jeers of the operatives added to the natural loneliness of his position.

When he did invent a process of machine-lasting, the shoemakers called it a “niggerhead,” and “niggerhead” it has remained in the shoe-factory world until this day. It was the pioneer invention of still another branch of the shoe-machinery industry.

Matzeliger started out to last a McKay shoe by some device patterned to imitate the motions of the hand laster. He took a room for night work over the West Lynn Mission; he became a Congregationalist, and a possible easement in rent may suggest why he went there.

Unmarried, delicate in health, cut off from companionship by hostile factory mates, he stuck to his work for six or eight months, and in September, 1880, a model made out of cigar boxes and other odds and ends satisfied him that he had hit the right principle. Then he made a real machine that pleated the leather around the toe, for which he refused a $1,500 offer.

Not being a practical shoemaker, he avoided mistakes in his third laster, a plan of which he forwarded to Washington with his application for a patent. The department could not understand it, but his claim seemed so attractive that an expert was sent to Lynn to make a personal examination, and a patent was issued to him.

The Consolidated Hand-Method-Lasting-Machine Company was formed by Lynn men with little capital; a fourth machine was completed by Matzeliger. Winslow bought some of the stock, and he employed experts to take up the inventor’s task, whose life was ebbing. Matzeliger lingered until 1889, when he died.

JAN ERNST MATZELIGER. Jan Matzeliger (1857—1889), a poor half-breed son of a Dutch engineer and a native black woman of Guiana, invented a laster, which derisive shoemakers called “niggerhead.” He left all his money to churches in Lynn.

To complete at this point the story of this martyr to a useful science, let us anticipate a scene in the North Congregational Church at Lynn on a December Sunday, 1904. To this society Matzeliger had left a block of the stock of the Consolidated Hand-Method-Lasting-Machine Company. This was exchanged for United Shoe Machinery stock at the organization of this company in 1899.

The Matzeliger shares had more than doubled in price by 1904, enabling the church to pay its mortgaged debt. On that December Sunday the members solemnly rededicated the church. On the pulpit platform stood an easel with a crayon portrait of Jan Earnst Matzeliger, surrounded by church dignitaries. The minister and a venerable deacon burned the cancelled mortgages in an urn.

Thus, this messenger from a foreign land, who had solved in principle the final problem in making shoes by machinery, but was not spared to work out the many details involved, was remembered as a benefactor and honored as a master.

In the process of lasting, the old-time shoemaker would pull the leather of the upper down at the toe with pincers and twist the surplus into small pleats; “pull and twist” they called it. This was a detail left by Matzeliger for others to perfect. When Winslow gained control of the Consolidated Lasting Company, every effort was made to develop a “puller-over” in the machine-shop at Beverly.

Not until 1904 could they make a machine ready for the shoe factory, and even then constant changes went on for seven or eight years. The story would fill a volume. No less than 2,600 changes were made by the old lasting company and by the United Shoe Machinery Company, at a cost of nearly a million and a half dollars.

The daily output of the shoemaker of the past rarely exceeded sixty pairs of shoes a day. This machine, however, running as one in a chain of machines will “pull over” from 700 to 1,000 pairs a day, according to the type of shoe.

This exploit is one of the most brilliant in shoe-machinery history. Watching five iron fingers carefully adjusting the upper to the leather while at the right instant another contrivance tacks it ready for welting and soling, one would think that the operator, touching the machine now and then with his fingers, had given to the dynamo running it the magic power of thought.

In spite of the long list of brilliant inventions in machine shoemaking, the business from the angle of shoe-factory owner was distressing. Three large centres of the industry, each making some machines that the others produced, each sending out a separate set of agents, made the life of the manufacturer miserable.

If he picked from each group, his factory would be a meeting-place for three sets of machine repairers with separate if not hostile purposes.

Lasting is one of the most difficult operations in shoemaking, and one of the most important. Upon it depends comfort. The welt side-lasting machine invented by Matzeliger performs this work in an almost human way. It is wonderful to see how evenly and tightly it draws the leather around the last. At each pull of the pincers a small tack, driven automatically part way in, holds the edge of the upper exactly in place, so that in the finished shoe every part of the upper has been stretched in all directions equally.
THE WELT SIDE-LASTER. It is particularly difficult to last the toe and heel of a shoe. This work is done by a lasting-machine. A series of wipers for toe and heel draw the leather simultaneously from all directions. There can be no wrinkles at the toe or heel of shoes on which the machines are properly used. After the leather has been brought smoothly around, it is held securely in place by the surplus leather crimpled in at this point. The surplus leather crimpled in at the heel is forced smoothly down against the insole, and held there by tacks driven by a very ingenious hand-tool, in which there is a constantly renewed supply of tacks.


As the business stood in the last decade of the nineteenth century, all was confusion and waste of energy. To bring order to it, a leader was necessary. Charles Goodyear had died and Gordon McKay, nearly eighty years of age, was enjoying at Newport the retirement he had earned.

There remained Sidney W. Winslow, whose inventors were well on their way to a perfect system of machine-lasting, without which the new art of shoemaking could not be completed. From the time he was foreman in his father’s stitching-room to his ownership of the Matzeliger laster he had been a student of shoe-machine construction.

He had business vision, and the faculty of attracting about him men who could do things.

He realized that teamwork would save the industry. This became so self-evident that the three groups came together in February, 1899, as the United Shoe Machinery Company, with Winslow as president, and all the interests properly represented in the board of directors.

The resultant factory built at Beverly, whence as a boy Winslow rode to school every morning with his father on his way to the Salem factory, is now the largest and best-equipped in any land.

With the pick of the experts, an experimental division was established and the task of selecting and improving the best devices for making a shoe was pushed forward at a cost, at times, of $450,000 a year. No less than 125,000 different kinds of machine parts are now kept in stock, from which about 450 distinct shoemaking machines may be assembled.

If one watchman were to make the complete round of all the beats of the factory force of watchmen, he would travel six miles through the sixteen buildings with a floor space of over twenty-four acres.

A much more extended journey might be taken by the observing visitor who starts with the experimental department, with its forty-three designing-rooms, proceeds through the various process-rooms, where the machine parts are made, and finishes at the museum containing nearly 2,000 machines and hundreds of attachments all discarded for better things.

Shoe machinery solved the army-shoe problem in 1861; a shoe-machinery system solved the army-shoe problem when during the World War, the American Expeditionary Forces arrived overseas only to find that they must wear heavier footwear.

The growth of the boot-and-shoe industry, made possible by substituting machines for hand labor, has been amazing. In this country alone there were about 1,400 factories in 1919, which produced over 330 million pairs of shoes, valued at over five hundred millions of dollars.

This makes an average of about three pairs to a person, if all were worn in this country.

Teams of six shoemakers in 1861, we have learned, turned out fifteen pairs of army shoes a day. At this rate of production over 450,000 old-time shoemakers working every day in the year would be needed to shoe the American people, even if they made only the cheap army brogan of sixty years ago.

INTERIOR OF THE OLD WINSLOW SHOP. Typical shop of the period when boots were sewed by means of hogs’ bristles waxed to thread, and when the lap-stone, hammer, pincers, knife, paste-horn, rubbing-stick, and blacking-pot were the only implements shoemakers knew.
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