Blake Lyman Reed

Before 1850, shoes were made in the United States by hand, mostly by men working at home. By 1875, more than 150 million pairs of shoes had been made in the United States by machines, mostly by women working in factories. The person most responsible for this amazing transformation of the U.S. shoe-making industry was Lyman Blake, inventor of the shoe-stitching machine that became known as the McKay machine.


Blake Lyman Reed was born on August 24, 1835, in South Abington, Massachusetts. The occupations of his parents, Samuel and Susannah (Bates), are unknown, but they were probably either millworkers or farmers.


In 1849 at the age of 14, the young boy was still living in Abington, Massachusetts with his parents and sisters: Clarissa, aged 26, Arathusa, aged 21 and Catherine aged 16.


In 1851 at the age of 16 Blake went into the shoe-making business with his older brother Samuel. The brother owned a leather shop and his employees cut out the pieces of leather from which a pair of shoes would be made and assembled them into kit form. Blake took the kits to shoe stitchers who, in their own homes, sewed the uppers together and then nailed them to the soles. He also picked up the finished shoes and returned them to his brother, who sold them to wholesalers.


In 1854 at age of 19 Blake was working for the I. M. Singer Company as a machine setup man. The company had just invented a sewing machine that could sew together uppers and whenever one was sold in his territory, usually to a shop like his brother's, Blake would install the machine and teach the operators how to use it.


In 1855 he married Susie Hollis with whom he had no children.


In 1856 Blake became a partner in the shoe-stitching machines were of little value without a machine that could attach them to the soles; machine-stitched uppers simply piled up while waiting for someone to nail them to soles. This led him to redesign the shoe so that it could be made entirely by machine and to invent a machine that could do the job. Blake's shoe was made of leather pieces that were flexible enough to be molded around a horn. His machine made use of a curved sewing needle mounted above the horn that could stitch together the uppers, inner sole and outer sole all in one operation.


In July 61858, Lyman had developed a sewing machine for helping attach the soles of shoes to the upper part of the shoe. No longer would hand sewing be the method, but with machines to switch, making the manufacturing cost of shoes much less.


In 1859 Blake's health failed, so he sold the rights to his patent for the shoe-stitching machine to Gordon McKay and moved to Staunton , Virginia, where he opened a retail shoe store.


In 1861, two years later, Blake returned to South Abington and became partners with McKay. After making the machine easier to use, mostly by making the horn movable and converting the machine so it could  be powered by steam as well as a mechanically driven belt, they began selling what became known as the McKay stitching machine. They also developed an entire shoe factory system that revolved around the use of the McKay stitching machine, then sold the machine and the system to shoe manufacturers throughout New England.


In 1874 Blake renewed his patent and then assigned it to the McKay Association, a consortium of New England shoe manufacturers that used the Blake-McKay factory system.


By this time he had also invented at least 15 other machines for making shoes, such as a machine that waxed the thread used for shoe stitching, thus making it more durable; a machine for cutting channels into soles before stitching, thus making them easier to stitch and a machine for stitching uppers together with lasting, a strong, durable, closely woven fabric.


In 1874 Blake retired from the shoe-making business, his skillful assignment of his several inventions having made him relatively wealthy. He spent his remaining years travelling the world. He died on October 5, 1883, in South Abington.


American Inventors, Entrepreneurs and Business Visionaries


by Charles W. Carey











Blake's US Patent


US 20.775                         Lyman Reed Blake

Improved Machine for Sewing a Sole on a Boot or Shoe

July 6, 1858


US 29.561                         Lyman Reed Blake

Improvement in the Construction of Boots and Shoes

 August 14, 1860


US 29.562                         Lyman Reed Blake

Improvement in the Construction of Boots and Shoes, Rendering them, when made in accordance with my invention, New Articles of Manufacture

 August 14, 1860


US 86.353                         Lyman Reed Blake

Combination of Pincers and Nail Maker and Driver, adapted for Lasting Boots and Shoes and for other uses

February 2, 1869


US 102.155                        Lyman Reed Blake

Improvement in uniting the Soles and Uppers of Boots and Shoes

Trustee of the McKay Sewing Machine Association

April 19, 1870


US 140.400                L. R. Blake  &  Asa S.  Libby

Improvement in Nailing Boots and Shoes

 July 1, 1873










US 11.240              William Butterfield  Sewing Machine   July 4, 1854

US 27.085         Elmer Townsend   Pegging Machine  February 7, 1860



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