Science, Inventions, Medicine, and Aerospace

Inventions and Patents

Who invented the shoe-lasting machine?

On March 20, 1883, Jan Matzeliger (1852–1889) patented the first successful shoe-lasting machine. Matzeliger was born in Surinam of a Dutch father, who was an engineer, and a black mother, who was Surinamese and probably came from West Africa. He left Surinam in 1871 and became a sailor on an East Indian ship. Matzeliger settled in Philadelphia for a while, holding odd jobs until he moved to Boston in 1876. The next year he settled in nearby Lynn, Massachusetts. There he developed his device while working in a shoe factory. The machine increased productivity as much as fourteen times over hand methods and led to concentration in the industry. Matzeliger continued to work on the machine to improve its quality. He invented a number of other devices, including a mechanism for distributing tacks and nails. On September 15, 1991, a Black Heritage postage stamp honoring Matzeliger was issued.


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