Jan Ernst Matzeliger

Jan Ernst Matzeliger was the son of a well educated Hollander who was sent out to Dutch Guiana in South America to oversee important government works. There he married a native Indian women and their son, Jan Ernst, was born in Paramaribo in 1852. The boy at the age of ten began training in a government machine shop under his father’s supervision as a machinist. Jan showed a remarkable ability to repair complex machinery and often did so when accompanying his father to a factory. His apprenticeship finished, at age 19 he he decided to look for opportunities and explore the other parts of the world. He worked aboard an East Indian merchant ship for a couple of years visiting several countries. Landing in Pennsylvania he decided to stay in the United States for a while, eventually finding his way to one of the shoemaking centers, Lynn, Massachusetts at the age of 25.

Though earning his living stitching shoes on a McKay Stitching machine, Matzeliger was more interested in machinery than in shoes. He thought of making a turn shoe sewing machine, but he heard the hand laster in the shop boast that whatever else might be done by machine, nothing could ever be invented to replace the hand laster. This was stimulus enough for Matzeliger. The lonely bachelor, already in delicate health, rented a room over the West End Mission and spent his evenings mocking up is ideas out of cigar boxwood, nails and other odds and ends a model of a lasting machine which was to duplicate the actual operations of the hand laster by means of pincers and tacking mechanisms which progressively tensioned the shoe upper over the last on to the insole and tacked it there.

This was in 1880. The crude model and its maker were much ridiculed, but there was one offer of $50 for the idea and Matzeliger was tempted.

Luckily he declined and set about making a second model out of some castings and old machine parts which he bought out of his earnings; patiently working alone forging, filing and fitting the various parts. This was a real machine and looked better. He was even offered $1.500 for the device which pleated the upper around the toe. On the verge of accepting this offer, he concluded that if it was worth that much to someone else, it should be worth more to him.

A patent was issued to him in 1883, but only after the Patent Office had sent a man to Lynn to study and try to understand the incredibly intricate motions in the machine and their useful purpose. A third and still better machine was patented in 1884.

As a successful lasting machine local manufacturers were interested and formed in 1884 the Union Lasting Machine Company, which became the Hand Method Power Lasting Machine Company in 1885 and the Consolidated Hand Method Lasting Machine Company in 1887Sidney W. Winslow bought stock and hired experts to assist Matzeliger. It was this Consolidated Hand Method Lasting Machine Company that commanded the highest per share price of the constituent companies forming the United Shoe Machine Co..

Matzeliger went on working as he was able, on improvements until his death in 1889 from tuberculosis at the age of 39. His good works lived long after hm; not only have thousands of his excellent lasting machines operated for many decades through out the world, but in 1904 the North Congregational Church of Lynn, ceremonially burned its portage, discharged by the sale of United Shoe stock acquired in exchange for Consolidated Hand Method stock bequeathed to them by Matzeliger.

Good as it was, the Hand Method Machine did not get on the market without trouble. The hand lasters in Lynn resented it, fearing for their livelihood. In those days such resentment frequently expressed itself in direct action, sometimes with violence. The lasters had a formidable organization; they considered themselves the aristocracy of the shoe factory. There was a series of pitched balls; sometimes manufacturers were driven out of Lynn and some out of business. In the end the hand lasters learned to run the machines (which really made their work easier and more productive) and peace was restored.








US 274.207                        Jan Ernst Matzeliger

Lasting Machine

Assignor of two thirds to Melville S. Nichols and Charles H. Delnow

March 20, 1883