Friday March 19, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Shoe Manufacturing

On this Day:

In 1883, Jan Matzeliger patented his invention of the lasting machine that automated the manufacture of shoes.

Jan Ernst Matzeliger (September 15, 1852 – August 24, 1889) was an inventor.

Matzeliger was born 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 requires 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.

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

Matzeliger sacrificed his health working exhausting hours on his invention and not eating over long periods of time. He caught a cold which quickly developed into tuberculosis. His early death in Lynn, Massachusetts from this disease meant he never saw the full profit of his invention. He died on August 24, 1889, three weeks shy of his 37th birthday.

Matzeliger’s invention was perhaps “the most important invention for New England.” His invention was “the greatest forward step in the shoe industry,” according to the church bulletin of The First Church of Christ (the same church that took him as a member) as part of a commemoration held in 1967 in his honor. Yet, because of the color of his skin, he was not mentioned in the history books until recently. In fact, contemporaries referred to him as the “Dutch n” and his machine as the “nhead laster,” a term used in the apparel industry at the time for a certain type of fabric.

A 29-cent US postal stamp was issued on September 15, 1991, in honor of Matzeliger. Designed by Barbara Higgins Bond, the stamp depicts Matzeliger and is a part of the Black Heritage Stamp Series (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

What type of shoes do thieves wear? Sneakers.

Second, a Song:

“Boogie Shoes” is a song by the disco group KC and the Sunshine Band, which first appeared on their 1975 self-titled album. The song became a hit after it appeared on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack in 1977. It was subsequently released as a single and peaked at number 35 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 29 on the soul chart in 1978. Before it’s 1978 release as an A-side, the song was the B-side to the 1976 single “Shake Your Booty”.

Structurally, it uses the sixteen-bar blues chord progression. As with several of KC’s disco songs, some of the lyrics are playfully suggestive: “I want to do it till the sun comes up / I want to do it till I can’t get enough.”

In addition to Saturday Night Fever, the song is featured in numerous other films, including No Escape (1994), Mallrats (1995), Boogie Nights (1997), Detroit Rock City (1999), The Wedding Date (2005) as well as the television series Sports Night, Desperate Housewives (both, coincidentally, with star Felicity Huffman dancing to it), Flash Forward, and Pose.

“So You Think You Can Dance” is a United States television reality program and dance competition airing on the Fox Broadcasting Company network. Season seven premiered on May 27, 2010. In the August 12 finale, contemporary/jazz dancer Lauren Froderman was named “America’s Favorite Dancer” and received the grand prize of $250,000, as well as an appearance on the cover of Dance Spirit magazine and in print advertising for Gatorade. Contemporary dancers Kent Boyd and Robert Roldan were named runner-up and third-place finisher, respectively.

Here is Lauren Froderman and Billy Bell in a Jazz dance performing “Boogie Shoes” from the July 14, 2010 episode. I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.” – Marilyn Monroe

Further to the organized bus service Smile:

Carol Burman of Victoria, BC Canada writes:

“Ten years ago, Burton Cummings played for our St John’s High School Reunion. It was supposed to be 2 songs. He played for 2.5 hours to a very appreciative audience! Yay Winnipeg.

Thanks David.”

Simon Chester of Toronto, Ontario, Canada writes:

“You missed the Swiss connections 1816 – 1826

Have a great day!

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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