Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Ebenezer Bailey Papers
As far back as Colonial times, the manufacture of boots and shoes was an important industry in New England. Over time, shoe production evolved from a home industry to a fully mechanized factory industry, stimulated by the invention in the late 1850s of machinery used to attach soles to footwear. Massachusetts was home to major shoe production centers, predominately in Essex, Norfolk, Plymouth, and Worcester counties. As the number of factories increased, a concomitant growth in labor occurred, resulting in the birth of labor unions and culminating in "The Great Shoemakers' Strike" of 1860, which originated in Lynn.
A parallel evolution took place within the industry itself, as the need for footwear changed. Demand for working-man's "brogans" was followed by demand for soldiers' boots in times of war, and eventually supplanted by a call for everyday and luxury footwear for women and children.
Boston, once renowned for its leather industry, ceased to be a center for shoe manufacturing by the turn of the 19th century. Nonetheless, the outlying towns of Beverly, Lynn, and Marblehead remained centers of shoe manufacturing for some time. It has been estimated that around 1890, one-third of Beverly's work force was employed in the manufacture of shoes.