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The Matzeliger
The Matzeliger

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Inspired by Jan Ernst Matzeliger

Jan Ernst Matzeliger (September 15, 1852 – August 24, 1889) was an African-American inventor in the shoe industries. He was born in Paramaribo (then Dutch Guyana, now Suriname). His father was a Dutch engineer. He was very wealthy and very well educated. His mother was a black Surinamese slave. In 1871, at age 19 he settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania speaking very little English. By 1877, he spoke adequate English and had moved to Massachusetts. In the early days of shoe making, 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. Since the greatest difficulty in shoe making was the actual assembly of the soles to the upper shoe, it required great skill to tack and sew the two components together. It was thought that such extensive work could only be done by skilled human hands. Matzeliger set out to develop an automatic method for lasting shoes. After many years of hard work and determination he developed a prototype that was successful. When a shoe was made by hand, in a day they would make 50 pairs of shoes. But when Jan created the shoe making machine, Jan made 700 pairs of shoes a day. His invention revolutionized the entire shoe industry in the United States and around the world.