Unity through Diversity

Mixis Living Trailblazers

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JAN E MATZELIGER: Born September 15, 1852, son of a Dutch engineer and a Surinamese black woman, who was a slave. By ten, he apprenticed in machine shops run by his father where he developed an interest in machinery and mechanics. After a stint at sea, while docked in Philadelphia, he decided to stay in the town. He worked at odd jobs including a shoemaker’s apprentice, and then moved to Boston in 1876. The following year, he settled in Lynn, Massachusetts, a manufacturing center on the north shore just ten miles northeast of Boston. He stayed with shoemaking for the next thirteen years, when the first shoe-sewing machine was introduced and the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Matzeliger secretly spent ten years in the development of a lasting machine. When the secret of his project became known, he was scorned, but he refused to be discouraged. He continued to improve on his machine until the first public operation took place on May 29, 1885, when the machine broke a record by lasting 75 pairs of shoes. Besides his lasting machine, Matzeliger patented several other inventions, including a mechanism for distributing tacks, nails, etc. Additional patents were awarded after his death in 1889. The lasting machine cut the cost of shoe manufacturing by one half and thus reduced the price of shoes as well. Lynn, Massachusetts, became known as "The Shoe Capital of the World." A school founded in Lynn to train young men to run the lasting machine graduates more than 200 students each year that, in turn, educated others in the United States and abroad in its use. Matzeliger was recognized for his efforts only after he died, when he was awarded the Gold Medal and Diploma at the Pan-American Exposition of 1901.