Jan Ernst Matzeliger – inventor in the shoe industry – African American History Month 2015 #BlackHistoryMonth


As an apprentice in a shoe factory where he operated a sole-sewing machine, Jan Ernst Matzeliger was responsible for attaching different parts of a shoe together. At the time, no machines existed that could attach the upper part of a shoe to the sole, therefore it had to be done by hand. “Hand Lasters” were able to produce approximately 50 pairs of shoes a day. In 1882, Matzeliger perfected a shoe lasting machine that was able to complete 150 to 700 pairs of shoes a day. By 1889 the demand of the shoe lasting machine was overwhelming and The Consolidated Lasting Machine Co. was formed, where Matzelinger was given huge blocks of stock for his invention. His machine had revolutionized the entire shoe industry in the U.S. and around the world.

…Matzeliger’s first shoemaking machine model was made out of cigar boxes, elastic, and wire.

After five years of work, Matzeliger obtained a patent for his invention in 1883. His machine could produce between 150 to 700 pairs of shoes a day, cutting shoe prices across the nation in half. He sacrificed his health working exhausting hours on his invention and not eating over long periods of time, he caught a cold which quickly developed into tuberculosis. His early death in Lynn, Massachusetts from tuberculosis meant he never saw the full profit of his invention. He died at age 36 on August 24, 1889.

In recognition of his accomplishment, he was honored on a postage stamp on September 15, 1991.

Jan Ernst Matzeliger


  • 274,207, 3/20/1883, Automatic method for lasting shoe
  • 421,954, 2/25/1890, Nailing machine
  • 423,937, 3/25/1890, Tack separating and distributing mechanism
  • 459,899, 9/22/1891, Lasting machine
  • 415,726, 11/26/1899, Mechanism for distributing tacks, nails, etc.
  • 467,840, 7/24/1891, The second advanced lasting shoe machine


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