Harper's New Monthly Magazine,  9 (1884–85), 273–89.

A Pair of Shoes

Howard Mudge Newhall



Relevant illustrations:

eng. [7]


Naturalists, Industry, Laboratories, Experiment, Manufactories, Machinery, Invention, Skill, Gender, Patents, Industrial Chemistry, Progress

    Declares that 'A great naturalist [probably a reference to Richard Owen] said, "Show me a scale, I'll draw the fish". Had he been a shoemaker he might have said, "Show me a shoe, I'll tell the wearer"' (273). Gives a detailed account of the various procedures involved in the manufacture of leather shoes, remarking playfully that the next pair that the reader will purchase may at this 'same moment be dodging the lasso of the "cow-boy" on some far-away plain' (274). Observes that 'Tanning in all its departments is largely experimental. A tannery is a great laboratory, and even experienced tanners differ in their opinions of treatment' (279). Describes the conditions of a modern shoe factory where the '"stitch, stitch, stitch" of the weary binder' was replaced during 'the "golden age" of invention [i.e. the 1850s and 1860s]' by 'machines [that] speeded at the rate of six hundred stitches in a minute', and now the 'clatter of machinery is heard' constantly by the largely female workforce (280). It is only the procedure of 'lasting' a shoe that still 'requires a skilled workman, and is a process which through years of wonderful invention has stood invulnerable against any improvement over an honest pair of hands'. Indeed, although 'Two or three inventors [...] claim to have discovered this philosopher's stone [...] there is no machine for fine work which has yet stood the test of an exacting market'. (282) Comments on the 'revolutionizing influence' of the 'McKay shoe-sewing machine' and the 'little shoe-makers shops [that have] disappeared before the march of the sewing machine', noting that 'By letters patent, for many years the company controlling the machine collected a royalty from persons who used it, and one large manufacturer paid in a single year the sum of fifteen thousand dollars for the privilege of using thirteen of them. A McKay stamp, like a postage stamp, was in these times attached to each pair of shoes made on this machine'. Indeed, while 'Rivers have attracted capitalists to build acres of mills on their banks, [...] this machine has made cities and large towns anywhere'. (284) Also examines some of the 'many interesting machines used in addition' in the making of shoes (286). Asserts that 'In view of the accomplishments of one short generation, it is not visionary to assume that the invention of shoe machinery is far from its possibilities', and looks forward to an attempt 'to combine different steps' in the manufacturing process. In fact, although it is 'not probable that a shoe can ever be well made and profitably made by one machine, [...] it is not hard for a person who has watched the development of a few years to believe that the manufacture of cheap slippers for house wear is capable of enough simplification to approach it'. (289)

© Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical Project, Universities of Leeds and Sheffield, 2005 - 2020

Printed from Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical: An Electronic Index, v. 4.0, The Digital Humanities Institute <http://www.sciper.org> [accessed ]