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Illustrations and descriptions of shoemaking machinery: "Shoe-Embossing Machine; Shoe-Eyeleting Machine ; Shoe-Hammer; Shoe-Heel Burnishing-Machine; Heel-Pressing Machine." Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

Beyond the Sewing Machine

While shoemaking was moving toward mechanization by the middle of the nineteenth century, it was the Civil War’s beginning in 1861 that created the biggest industry change. The war pulled labor away from the industry, necessitating further technological advancements in light of fewer workers, and created a demand for shoes for military men.

The pegging machine, mechanized in the 1850s, allowed for the “uppers,” or top portions, of shoes to be attached with relative speed to the harder soles. Still, the pegging process lacked the quality of hand stitching.

While the 1850s sewing machine could manage the production of uppers, it was not until the invention of McKay’s sole sewing machine in 1860 that uppers and soles could be joined with industry-desired speed and quality.

The rubber vulcanization process, invented by Charles Goodyear, Sr. and employed in his son’s welting machines in 1877, allowed rubber soles to be sewn to the uppers.