Why Massachusetts?

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The shoe industry became the backbone for many Massachusetts cities and towns. The organization of the boot and shoe industry in Massachusetts before 1875, 1921. Courtesy of Harvard University via HathiTrust.

How did a comparatively small state become the hotbed of early America’s largest industry? As one of the first colonies, Massachusetts had an early and continual flow of immigration to local ports, which brought skilled shoemakers and craftsmen such as Philip Kertland and Edmund Bridges, who came from England to the area that would become the town of Lynn in 1635. The pair began a lineage of master craftsmen and apprentices who would set up shops and create a geographical area of expertise. By 1795, Lynn was producing over 170,000 pairs of shoes annually.

Other cities in Massachusetts, such as Haverhill, Brockton, and Weymouth, had similar growth in the shoemaking industry. These and other towns became home to some of its great innovators, including Gordon McKay and Charles Goodyear, Jr.

Even with the advent of industrialization, Massachusetts remained at the center of both shoe machinery production and the cut stock and finding industry until World War I, producing forty percent of the nation’s shoes in the early twentieth century. In turn, the shoe industry aided in the commercial growth of the state’s cities and towns, forming the backbone of its local industry.