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BLKISH Forums African-American Inventors and Scientists Lasting Machine – Manufacturing of Shoes | Jan Ernst Matzeliger (Inventor)


  • Lasting Machine – Manufacturing of Shoes | Jan Ernst Matzeliger (Inventor)


    November 1, 2020 at 2:25 pm

    Jan ernst matzeliger.gif

    Jan Ernst Matzeliger (September 15, 1852 – August 24, 1889) was an inventor whose lasting machine brought significant change to the manufacturing of shoes.


    Lasting machine

    Matzeliger was born on a coffee plantation in Dutch Guiana, now Suriname. His father, Ernst Matzeliger, was a third generation Dutchman of German descent living in the Dutch Guiana capital city of Paramaribo. He owned and operated the Colonial Shipworks that had been in his family for three generations. His mother was a house slave of African descent; she lived on the plantation of which his father was the owner for a time. At the age of ten, Jan Matzeliger was apprenticed in the Colonial Ship Works in Paramaribo, where he demonstrated a natural aptitude for machinery and mechanics. He left Dutch Guiana at age 19, and worked as a mechanic on a Dutch East Indies merchant ship for several years before settling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he first learned the shoe trade. By 1877, he spoke adequate English (Dutch was his native tongue) and moved to Massachusetts to pursue his interest in the shoe industry. After a while, he went to work in the Harney Brothers Shoe factory.

    In the early days of shoemaking, shoes were made mainly by hand. For proper fit, the customer’s feet had to be duplicated in size and form by creating a stone or wooden mold called a “last” from which the shoes were sized and shaped. Since the greatest difficulty in shoemaking was the actual assembly of the soles to the upper shoe, it required great skill to tack and sew the two components together. It was thought that such intricate work could only be done by skilled human hands. As a result, this phase was not yet mechanized and shoe lasters held great power over the shoe industry. They would hold work stoppages without regard for their fellow workers’ desires, resulting in long periods of unemployment for them.[1]

    After five years of work, Matzeliger obtained a patent for his invention of an automated shoe laster in 1883.[2] A skilled hand laster could produce 50 pairs in a ten-hour day.[3] Matzeliger’s machine could produce between 150 and 700 pairs of shoes a day, cutting shoe prices across the nation in half.[2]

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