May 29, 1885

Matzeliger Demonstrates Revolutionary Machine


On this day in 1885, Jan Matzeliger demonstrated his invention — a machine that could finish 75 shoes in a 10-hour day. The most skilled craftsmen working by hand could turn out 50. An improved version of the machine was soon producing 700 shoes per day. An immigrant from Dutch Guiana, Matzeliger, who had settled in Lynn, had overcome the skepticism of co-workers who doubted that a black man with little schooling and poor English could come up with an invention that would revolutionize the shoemaking industry. In the mid-1880s, he and two partners started a business to manufacture his machine. Matzeliger died a few years later at the age of 37. The companies descended from the one he started are now worth more than a billion dollars.

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