Jan Earnest Matzeliger was born on September 15, 1852 in Paramaribo, Surinam,
a Dutch colony on the northern coast of South America. At the age of 20 he emigrated to
the United States where he settled in Philadelphia. While living in Philadelphia, he worked
in a shoe factory. He later moved to Lynn, Massachusetts which was considered the shoe
capital of the world. It was in Lynn were Matzeliger invented a machine which would
change the entire shoe industry. His invention was the shoe lasting machine.
His shoe lasting machine enabled leather to be stretched over a shoe last, which is
a wooden or metal model of the human foot. Once the leather is stretched it can then be
attached to the inner sole. This process was originally done by hand, which made shoes
expensive because of the large amounts of time and labor involved. With Matzeliger's
invention 150 - 750 shoes, depending on the type of leather, could be lasted each day.
Matzeliger was approached by Sydney Winslow who bought the invention and
helped to finance it. Together the two founded the United Shoe Machine Company. The
success of the business caused a 50% decease on the prices of shoes. The lower prices
were a result of the increases in both the number of shoes produced and the ease of
production. The new found ease of production led to better working conditions and higher
wages for those who made their living in shoe factories.
Jean Earnest Matzeliger died in 1889 after contracting tuberculosis. He was 37. He
never received money for his invention. He instead received stock in the United Shoe
Machine Company. Unfortunately this stock did not appreciate until after his death.