Rubber Soles through Vulcanization

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Shoe conveyor jacks loaded, Hood Rubber Company, Watertown, Massachusetts. Courtesy of Watertown Free Public Library via Digital Commonwealth.

The first rubber-soled shoes were developed and manufactured in the United States in the late 1800s. The soles were the product of a new manufacturing process called vulcanization, discovered by Charles Goodyear, Sr. The vulcanization technique uses heat to meld rubber to cloth or other rubber components, creating a sturdier, more permanent bond.

A driving force in the shoemaking industry in its own right, the Hood Rubber Company in Watertown, Massachusetts, became a major employer for local workers, many of whom were recent immigrants. The rubber company, founded in 1896, employed over 10,000 people in its heyday in the early twentieth century.