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JAN E. MATZELIGER

INVENTOR (1852-1889)

Born in Paramaribo, 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 where he worked in a shoe factory.  He later moved to New England, settling 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.  Sydney W. Winslow, who established the United States Shoe Machine Company, subsequently bought Matzeliger's patent.  The continued success of this business resulted in a 50 percent reduction in the price of shoes across the nation, doubled the wages, and improved working conditions for millions of people dependent on the shoe inventions, all of which contributed to the shoe-making revolution.  His last patent was issued in September 1891, two years after his death. 

Revised: July 18, 2013.