Jan Matzeliger was born in Paramaribo, Dutch
Guiana on September 15, 1852.
When Jan was 18 years old, he began working in
his father's machine shop. Jan had a fascination with the way machines
worked and soon became adept at handling and working on them. In 1873 at 18
years of age, he emigrated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Jan spent 3 years in Philadelphia doing mostly
odd jobs and then in 1876 moved first to Boston and then to Lynn,
Massachusetts. After moving to Lynn, Jan took a job in a shoe factory.
During that era, although there were machines
that could cut, sew and tack shoes, no machine had ever been invented that
could stitch the leather (upper) of a shoe to the sole and this operation
had to be performed by hand. (The process is called Lasting.)
Jan became interested in the question of
whether such a device could be produced and began to work on designs for a
lasting machine. In 1880 he produced and acquired a patent on his first
Lasting Machine made with cigar boxes, wood and wire.
He perfected and patented his machine in
1883 receiving patent number 274,207. Jan's Lasting Machine
was able to turn out 200 to 600 pairs of shoes a day compared to the best
manual rate of only 50 per day.
During the time that Jan was working on and
improving his machine, he spent virtually every penny he had on perfecting
it. He ate sparingly and got very little sleep. Jan Matzeliger died on
August 24, 1887 at the age of 37. He succumbed to Tuberculosis, his health
irreversibly damaged by his poor eating habits, long hours and lack of