Shoe lasting machine is patented, March 20, 1883

-March 20, 2017

Shoe manufacturing was revolutionized by the lasting machine, which was patented on March 20, 1883 by inventor Jan Earnst Matzeliger.

Matzeliger was born in 1852 in Paramaribo, Suriname, to a Dutch engineer father and a Surinamese mother of African descent. He became interested in shoe manufacturing after traveling to Philadelphia in 1873 and moved to Lynn, Massachusetts for its rapidly growing shoe industry.

Before the lasting machine, shoes were made mostly by hand. Molds of customers' feet were made with wood or stone called "lasts" used to size and shape the shoes. While machines were used to cut and stitch the leather, shaping and joining the body of the shoe and its sole was done by "hand lasters."

This final step in the process was time-consuming to do by hand and these specialized workers could charge a high price for their services, making shoes an expensive product. Matzeliger noticed this issue and set out to automate the process.

After working all day sewing shoes, the aspiring inventor took classes at night to learn English until he could read well enough to study books on physics and mechanical science.  Matzeliger worked for years to design a machine that would hold a shoe on a last, grip and pull the leather down around the heel, and set and drive in the nails. To fund building models he reached a deal to sell two-thirds of the profits of the device to Melville S Nichols and Charles H Delnow, and they formed the Union Lasting Machine Company.

The patent office sent a representative to Massachusetts to confirm that the device could do the job of the hand lasters before granting Matzeliger patent number 274,207 in 1883.

Within two years, the machine could produce up to 700 pairs of shoes each day. Hand lasters produced only 50 pairs per day. By 1889 demand for the lasting machine was substantial and the Consolidated Lasting Machine Company was formed to manufacture the devices.

That year Matzeliger died of tuberculosis, but the shoe lasting machine went on to increase shoe production a thousand-fold, making quality footwear more affordable.

Today the shoe manufacturing industry continues to evolve with the use 3D printing. Highly customized shoes can be produced quickly, but not yet cheaply. One of the latest advancements combines color with multiple materials, which could be the first step toward being able to print a complete shoe.

This video previews the research and testing that went into creating a customized, 3D-printed track shoe:

Also see:

For more moments in tech history, see this blog. EDN strives to be historically accurate with these postings. Should you see an error, please notify us.

Editor's note
: This article was originally posted on March 20, 2013 and edited on March 20, 2017.

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