Black History Month: Jan Ernst Matzeliger

Jan Ernst Matzeliger born in Paramaribo, Suriname on September 15th, 1852. He was an African-American inventor in the shoe industry. His father was a Dutch engineer and his mother a Surinamese slave. Matzeliger had a large interest in mechanics and his efforts to invent the first shoe lasting machine began once he arrived in the United States at the age of 19 in 1971.

Jan Matzeliger3


In the early days of craftsmanship and shoe making, all production was done by hand. The greatest difficultly in shoe making was the actual construction of assembly of the shoe to its crafted upper. The techniques of tacking and sewing the two components together required great skill, time and patience. Matzeliger, after working at Harney Brothers Shoe factory, obtained a patent for his invention in 1883 in Massachusetts. He created a machine that could produce between 150 to 700 pairs of shoes daily, where hands-craftsman could only produce 50 pairs within 10 hours. Jan Ernst Matzeliger's invention is said to be one of the most important inventions within the shoe industry. In recognition of his accomplishment, he was honored on a postage stamp on September 15th, 1991.