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*This date marks the birth of Jan Matzeliger in 1852. He was an African American inventor best known for his shoe-lasting machine that mechanically shaped the upper portions of shoes.
Born in Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana [now Suriname], the son of a Dutch father and a black Surinamese mother, Matzeliger began work as a sailor on a merchant ship at the age of 19. After about six years settled in Lynn, where he found employment in a shoe factory and became interested in the possibilities of lasting shoes by machine. Working alone and at night for six months, he produced a model in wood and on March 20, 1883, received a patent. His invention won swift acceptance and within two years had largely supplanted hand methods in Lynn.
His patent was subsequently bought by Sydney W. Winslow, who established the United Shoe Machine Company. The continued success of this business brought about a 50% 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. The patent number is 459,899.
Matzeliger received several other patents for shoe-manufacturing machinery, including an improved model of his first lasting machine. He died Aug. 24, 1889, in Lynn, Mass., when only 37, long before he had the chance to realize a share of the enormous profit derived from his invention.
The Encyclopedia Britannica, Twenty-fourth Edition.
Copyright 1996 Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.