African American Hero of the Day

African American Almanac
ISBN: 9781578593231

What inventor was noted for his advances in making shoes?

  • He was born in Dutch Guiana in 1852 and emigrated to the United States in 1860.
  • As a boy, he worked in a Philadelphia shoe factory.
  • He patented a machine that could make a shoe in just one minute.
  • He patented several more inventions in the 1880 that completely revolutionized the industry, yet he never made any money from his work before his death at the age of thirty-seven.

Jan Matzeliger (1852-1889)


Jan Ernst Matzeliger was born on September 15, 1852, in Paramariboin, Dutch Guiana. Matzeliger found employment in the government machine works at the age of ten. Eight years later he immigrated to the United States, settling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he worked in a shoe factory. He later moved to New England and settled permanently in Lynn, Massachusetts.

The Industrial Revolution had by this time brought the invention of machines to cut, sew, and tack shoes, but none had been perfected to last a shoe. Matzeliger lost little time in designing and patenting just such a device, which he refined over the years so that it could adjust a shoe, arrange the leather over the sole, drive in the nails, and deliver the finished product--all in one minute's time.

Matzeliger's patent was subsequently bought by Sydney W. Winslow, who established the United Shoe Machine Company. The continued success of this business resulted in a fifty percent reduction in the price of shoes across the nation, doubled wages, and improved working conditions for millions of people dependent on the shoe industry for their livelihood.

Between 1883 and 1891 Matzeliger received five patents on his inventions, all of which contributed to the shoe-making revolution. His last patent was issued in September 1891, two years after his death.

Matzeliger died on August 24, 1889, at the age of thirty-seven of tuberculosis, long before he had the chance to realize a share of the enormous profit derived from his invention. In fact he never received any money for his patents. Instead he was issued stock in the United Shoe Machine Company that did not become valuable until after his death.

From African American Almanac: 400 Years of Triumph, Courage and Excellence by Lean'tin Bracks, (c) 2012 Visible Ink Press(R). A wealth of milestones, inspiration, and challenges met . . .

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