The creation of the shoe-lasting machine by Jan Ernst Matzeliger at the beginning of the 20th century proved to transform South America’s impoverished labor into a capitalist paradise, despite the fact that it may be difficult to discern how he altered the dynamics of the Americas.
Let’s start from the beginning. On September 15, 1852, Matzeliger was born in Paramaribo, then Dutch Guyana and now Suriname. His mother was a Black Surinamese slave of African ancestry, and his father was a rich and well-educated Dutch engineer of German heritage who lived in Dutch Guyana. When he was 10 years old, Matzeliger began working as an apprentice in his father’s machine shops, where he discovered a passion for mechanics and equipment. He had a passing interest in mechanics in his home country, but Matzeliger didn’t develop his interest in machines and mechanics into a vocation until he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the age of 19 where he learnt shoe trade.
Shoes were mostly handcrafted in the early days of shoe manufacturing. It was necessary to mimic the size and shape of the customer’s feet in order to create a stone or wooden mold called a “last” from which the shoes were measured and molded. The actual assembly of the soles to the top shoe was the most difficult part of producing shoes, therefore it took tremendous expertise to tack and sew the two parts together. It was thought that such intricate work could only be done by skilled, human hands. As a result, shoe lasters had considerable influence over the shoe business. They would organize work stoppages without consideration for the preferences of their coworkers, leaving them unemployed for protracted periods of time.
He made the decision to automate the final remaining manual bottoming procedure after observing the hand lasters at the facility. After hard days at the plant, Matzeliger worked independently using reference books and a used set of drawing tools. He used wire, elastic, and wooden cigar boxes to construct his first model. His prototype was finished two years later. Earlier attempts to automate the procedure had failed due to the lasting process’ relevance to the final appearance of a shoe. Matzeliger’s gadget was so intricate that patent examiners had to see it in operation to comprehend it. From the fifty pairs an experienced laster could create by hand, Matzeliger developed his innovation until it could make 700 pairs of shoes every day. Due to a roughly 50% decrease in shoe prices, many more individuals can now purchase high- quality shoes.
In 1883, Matzeliger finally received a patent for his creation after five years of labor.
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This article was written by Maya Mitala.