March 20, 1885: Jan, also known as John, Matzeliger [1852-1889] patents a shoe lasting machine. Jan was born in Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana to an African homemaker and a Dutch engineer. He moved to the US at the age of 18 and worked in a shoe factory in Philadelphia.
Shoe makers cobbled shoes in a time-intensive manner using a lasting pincher. This tool helped to get the leather upper attached to the sole of the shoe. It limited the output to a few pairs of shoes per day.
Matzeliger’s new machine automated the process of attaching the sole. The leather upper was placed tightly over the last [a form in the shape of a foot] and the under sole was arranged over it and pinned in place while the outer sole was attached. The process took approximately one minute.
The earliest shoes date from between 8000 and 7000 BC. They were found in Oregon in 1938. Most early shoes were made of tanned leather and didn’t usually last long enough for us to find them and it is assumed shoes have been worn for at least 26,000 years and probably closer to 40,000 years. During this time frame, the bones of the feet were thinning and so it assume shoes were being regularly worn. Early shoes were more like foot bags used to protect the feet.
By the Middle Ages, turn-shoes were developed. It was made of leather put together inside out. There were flaps that then allowed it to be turned after it was made. As wealth increased, the aesthetic looks to shoes also improved. Since the 17th century, shoes have been made with a sewn-on sole. For all the women worldwide who love to buy shoes, Matzeliger’s invention put them within our financial grasp.
“The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.” – Carl G. Jung
“A Roman divorced from his wife, being highly blamed by his friends, who demanded, ‘Was she not chaste? Was she not fair? Was she not fruitful?’ holding out his shoe, asked them whether it was not new and well made. ‘Yet,’ added he, ‘none of you can tell where it pinches me.’” – Plutarch
“If the shoe fits, it’s too expensive.” – Adrienne Gusoff
“Shopping tip: You can get shoes for 85 cents at the bowling alley.” – unknown
Also on this day, in 1899 the Martha Place became the first women to be executed by electric chair.