Best Foot Forward: The Shoe Industry in Massachusetts

Best Foot Forward: The Shoe Industry in Massachusetts


Illustration from The Union boot and shoe worker, 1900-1902. Courtesy of University of Wisconsin via HathiTrust.

In This Exhibition

It was approximately 40,000 years ago that mankind first donned a pair of shoes. During humanity’s long history of footwear, and an equally broad array of styles, the basic fundamentals of Western shoemaking remained mostly unchanged until the mid-nineteenth century. In the 1800s, the small state of Massachusetts revolutionized the shoemaking industry, cladding the feet of consumers nationwide in unprecedented numbers.

One of America’s original colonies, Massachusetts found itself at the heart of the nation’s shoemaking industry by attracting and retaining skilled shoemakers and shoe machinery engineers. Only when the technology that Massachusetts' shoemakers invented became available beyond the state did the industry’s market expand throughout the country.

Even with the spread of industrialization, Massachusetts remained the largest producer of shoes in the United States through World War I, responsible for nearly forty percent of America’s shoes and home to an equal percentage of its shoemakers.  

Credit: This exhibition was created as part of the DPLA’s Public Library Partnerships Project by collaborators from Digital Commonwealth. Exhibition organizer: Anna Fahey-Flynn.