Jan Matzeliger's Shoe Lasting Machine

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Jan Matzeliger and his ‘shoe lasting machine’ Jan Ernst Matzeliger was born on the 15th of September 1852 in what used to be Paramaribo – part of the Dutch colonies on the South American continent, known as the Dutch Guiana – now the Republic of Suriname. Although his mother was a black Surinamese slave, his father was a white Dutch engineer, sent to Paramaribo to manage government machine shops. This meant that Jan, despite the black colour of his skin, was born free, wealthy and educated thanks to his father. By the age of 10, he became an apprentice in his father’s shops, where he learnt about machinery and mechanisms, and nurtured a fascination in mechanics that was to follow him into adulthood. When he turned 19, he left his family…show more content…
This increased production of certain processes, but the overall rate of shoe production was halted on the last step: the completion, or ‘lasting’ of the shoe. No machine yet existed that could attach a sole to its upper counterpart to form a complete shoe, and so this was done by skilled workers called ‘hand lasters’. These men were held in high esteem, and could demand high pay as they were the only ones who could complete the shoe; without them, no end product would be realized, meaning neither sales nor profit. These high fees therefore increased the price of shoes for the consumer, while simultaneously limiting their supply due to the slow completion process (an expert hand laster could produce 50 pairs in a 10 hour day). This ensured that shoes were an exclusive product, and not just anyone could afford them (most people only kept one pair at a time). Hand lasters were confident that no machine could be made to replace their skilled and finicky labour, but Matzeliger recognized the gap in production for what it was – an opportunity – and decided to tackle the challenge declared…show more content…
He was only recognized 12 years after his death, when he was awarded a Gold-Medal and Diploma at the Pan-American Exposition of 1901 (a huge world fair held in Buffalo, New York), as well as being awarded patents for some of his previously unrecognized inventions. In 1991, a stamp was issued in his honour by the U.S Postal Service, forming part of the Black Heritage Collection, and a statue was erected in Lynn, Massachusetts, to honour him in the place of his greatest success and contribution to humanity and our

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