From The Wonder Book of Knowledge, 1921

The Story In The Making Of A Pair Of Shoes

The covering and protection of the feet has been a necessity in all but the warm climates for very many centuries, various articles being used for this purpose. Leather is now very generally employed, though wood is often used in Holland and France and paper in China and Japan. The moccasin of the American Indian was made of untanned deer skin. The first historical mention of a shoe is in the Old Testament, where Abraham refused to take as much as a “shoe-latchet” from the King of Sodom. This probably meant a sandal, leather strapped to the foot, though the Jews wore shoes as well, and both shoes and sandals were worn in Greece and Rome. Both in ancient and modern times the styles of shoes worn have varied greatly, fashion taking hold of them.

In the reigns of the English kings Henry I and Stephen, the people of the court wore shoes with long points stuffed with tow and made to coil like a ram’s horn, and by the time of Richard II the points had grown so long as to reach the knee, to which they were fastened by silver or gold chains. In the eighteenth century ladies wore shoes with absurdly high heels, a ridiculous fashion which has come back within our own times. An improvement which was adopted in the early nineteenth century was that of making shoes right and left. Boots, which have at times been much worn, are a variety of shoe lengthened to protect part of the legs.

Until within a recent period the trade of shoemaker was an active one, all boots and shoes being made by hand. At the present time, however, the old-time shoemaker, with his bench, lapstone, last and awls has almost gone out of business, except as a cobbler, mending instead of making having become his usual occupation. In his place has come the factory hand, nearly all footwear being now a product of machinery, and this of greatly varied and effective character. In this form shoe-making has become a thriving industry in New England and in some other parts of the United States. This method has greatly decreased the cost of shoes, invention having so hastened and cheapened all its processes that the number of shoes that it would take an old-time shoemaker a year to make can be turned out in a few hours by modern machinery.

Shoemaking by Machine.

The variety of inventions used in shoe factories is rather bewildering, every one of the many processes having a machine of its own, and each of these doing its work with admirable precision. We can name here only the more important of these implements.

First comes the clicking machine. This has a cutting board resembling that used by the hand workmen. Over this is a beam containing a cutting die under which the leather is passed. At every descent of the die a piece of leather is cut out of the skin of the size and shape needed for the upper leather of a shoe. Thus in an instant is done what was slowly done by a sharp knife moved around a pattern in the old method.

The piece of leather thus cut out is next passed under the skiving machine, which shaves down its edges to a bevel, the thinned edge being then folded, after which the toe caps are passed through a punching machine which cuts a series of ornamental perforations along the edge of the cap. The linings of the shoe are then prepared and put in place and the whole goes to the stitchers, by which all the parts of the upper are united. This is done by a range of machines, which perform the varied operations with wonderful rapidity and accuracy. The eyelets are next added by a machine which places them in both sides of the shoe at the same time and directly opposite each other, this operation finishing the upper part of the shoe.

* Illustrations by courtesy of United Shoe Machinery Co.

In the Days of the Awl, Lapstone and Hammer

In the Days of the Awl, Lapstone and Hammer.

Amazeen Skiving Machine

Amazeen Skiving Machine.

Cross Section of Goodyear Welt Shoe, Showing the Different Parts and their Relation to Each Other

Cross-Section of Goodyear Welt Shoe, Showing the Different Parts and their Relation to Each Other.

Insole Tacking Machine

Insole Tacking Machine.

Ideal Clicking Machine

Ideal Clicking Machine.

Duplex Eyeleting Machine

Duplex Eyeleting Machine.

Ensign Lacing Machine

Ensign Lacing Machine.

Hex Pulling Over machine

Hex Pulling-Over machine.


Rex Upper Trimming Machine.

Crown Tip Punching Machine

Crown Tip Punching Machine.

Bed Lasting Machine

Bed Lasting Machine.

Goodyear Universal Inseam Trimming Machine

Goodyear Universal Inseam Trimming Machine.

Tack Pulling and Resetting Machine

Tack-Pulling and Resetting Machine.

Consolidated Hand Method Welt Lasting Machine

Consolidated Hand Method Welt Lasting Machine.

Improved Sole Laying Machine

Improved Sole Laying Machine.

Star Channel Cementing Machine

Star Channel Cementing Machine.

Goodyear Automatic Sole Leveling Machine

Goodyear Automatic Sole Leveling Machine.

American Lightning Nailing Machine

American Lightning Nailing Machine.

The sole leather portions of the shoe pass through another series of machines, being cut from sides of sole leather by the dieing-out machine, cut to exact shape by the rounding machine and to exact thickness by the splitting machine, and then toughened by passing under a heavy rolling machine. These and other machines complete the soles and libels, which are finally sent to the making or bottoming room, where the completed shoe uppers awaits them.

The first process here is that of the ensign lacing machine, which puts a strong twine through the eyelets and ties it in an accurate manner. This is done very swiftly and exactly, its purpose being to hold the parts of the shoe in their normal position while the shoe is being completed. The last, made of wood, is now put in place and tacked fast by the insole tacking machine, when the upper is placed over it and fastened by two tacks to hold it in place. Then comes the pulling-over machine, the pincers of which draw the leather securely against the wood of the last, to which it is fastened by other tacks. These tacks in the upper are driven only part way in, so that they may be easily drawn out when no longer needed.

The welt lasting machine next takes the job in hand, it being almost humanlike in the evenness and tightness with which it draws the leather around the last, other tacks being driven partly in to hold it in place. A second lasting machine of different kind, draws it around the toe and heel. Then comes the upper trimming machines, which cuts away the surplus parts of the leather, the Rex pounding machine, which hammers it around the heel, the tack pulling machine which removes the lasting tacks and puts in others to hold the new placed leather, and the upper stapling machine, which forms a little staple fastening from wire which securely holds the shoe upper to the channel lip of the insole.

The shoe is now ready to receive the welt, a narrow strip of prepared leather which is sewed along the edge of the shoe and holds all its parts firmly together. This used to be one of the most difficult tasks in hand-work, but is done rapidly and exactly by this machine. After this all protruding parts of the welt and upper are trimmed off by another machine, the insole tack pulling machine removes all the remaining temporary tacks, and the welt-beating and slashing machines beats the welt with little hammers till it stands out evenly from the side of the shoe.

It may seem as if the number of machines engaged in this work are almost beyond number, but there are nearly as many more to come. In fact, a factory shoe in many cases is not completed until 170 machines and 210 pairs of hands have taken part in putting it together and getting it into shape for the wearer, and each of these machines works with an accuracy which no hand-work can equal. We have so far witnessed the assembling of the several parts of the shoe into one connected whole. The remaining processes must be run over more rapidly.

There is a sole-laying machine, a rounding and channeling machine, a loose nailing machine (the latter driving nails into the heel at the rate of 350 per minute), a heel seat rounding machine, and various others, one sewing the welt to the shoe, a leveling machine, a second nailing machine, which does the final work of attaching the heel to the shoe, and so on somewhat indefinitely.

The remaining machines have to do with the final finishing. They include trimmers, stitch separators, edge setters, buffers, finishers, cleaners, stampers, shoe treers, creasers, etc., each playing a part of some importance in giving a final finish.

Edge Trimming Machine

Edge Trimming Machine.

Climax Finishing Shaft

Climax Finishing Shaft.

Goodyear Heel Seat Rounding Machine

Goodyear Heel Seat Rounding Machine.

Loose Nailing Machine

Loose Nailing Machine.

The Hadaway Stitch Separating Machine

The Hadaway Stitch Separating Machine.

Naumkeag Buffing Machine

Naumkeag Buffing Machine.

Regent Stamping Machine

Regent Stamping Machine.

Goodyear Universal Rounding and Channeling Machine

Goodyear Universal Rounding and Channeling Machine.

Goodyear Welt and Turn Shoe Machine

Goodyear Welt and Turn Shoe Machine.

Stitch and Upper Cleaning Machine

Stitch and Upper Cleaning Machine.

Twin Edge Setting Machine

Twin Edge Setting Machine.

Goodyear Outsole Rapid Lockstitch Machine

Goodyear Outsole Rapid Lockstitch Machine.

Improved Vamp Creasing Machine

Improved Vamp Creasing Machine.

Miller Show Treeing Machine

Miller Shoe Treeing Machine.

The Evolution of a Goodyear Welt Shoe

The Evolution of a Goodyear Welt Shoe.

1. A last. 2. An upper. 3. An Insole. 4. Shoe lasted and ready to have welt sewed on. 5. Welt partly sewed on. 6. Welt entirely sewed on the shoe. 7. An outsole. 8. Shoe with outsole laid and rounded; channel lip turned up ready to be stitched. 9. Shoe with sole stitched on. 10. Shoe with heel in place. 11. Heel trimmed and shoe ready for finishing to the shoe and making it presentable to the wearer.

The whole operation, as will be seen, is a highly complicated one, and is remarkably effective in preparing an article that shall appeal to the salesman and purchaser and prove satisfactory when put into use.

Such is the complicated process of making a shoe by machinery. It would be hard to find any machine process that surpasses it in complexity and the number of separate machines involved. Poor old St. Crispin would certainly expire with envy if he could see his favorite thus taken out of the hands of his artisans and the shoe whirled rapidly through a host of odd but effective contrivances on the way to become made fit for wear.


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