Boot and Shoe Business, The Origin and Growth
By Ernest Bragg, October 1948
It may be helpful in our consideration of the boot and shoe business if we look, briefly to the origin and
purpose of footwear.
If we look back to its origin, we find that the earliest types were little more than pads of grass, fibers or folded
skins bound to the feet for protection when moving about.
After centuries of the use of many types of sandals and wooden shoes, the art of making moccasins and
later the type where a thicker bottom was attached to a leather top was developed.
The shapes, color and decorations of these early types were of very many different forms, some practical
and other simply ornate and highly impractical. In fact the original use of shoes was somewhat lost sight of
in the race for decorative effect.
Before our Colonial days many fancy types of footwear had been made, some useful, and others decidedly
One of these ornate types was the Jackboot with its large flaring top so high and so large at the top as to
interfere with walking and serving no practical purpose save grotesque ornamentation.
Another fantastic type was the long-toed boot. Here was a narrow-toed type of foot-wear which for effect was
lengthened and lengthened until it became so long that walking was extremely difficult and it became
necessary to pass laws limiting the length of toe.
Not long after curbing the length of the toe, another freakish type appeared. It was a wide sole which grew
wider and wider until the wearers were having much difficulty to walk because of inability to keep the feet far
enough apart to prevent stepping on the soles of their own shoes. Legal action had to come again and the
width of soles was limited to five and one half inches.
There were other freakish types of foot-wear and obtrusive ornamentation including large polished buckles,
elaborate bows and other fancy trimmings for decoration, all of which were fully evident in early colonial days.
I have now briefly sketched what might readily be a large volume of description of the many forms and
decorations of foot-wear before wholesale manufacture began.
Before I begin discussion of the early boot and shoe business in Milford let us look, briefly, at the causes
which lead up to the beginning of the business.
One fact that we must keep constantly in mind is that the itinerant or custom shoe-maker had been in
business, practically from the time of the first settlement of the colonies.
Wholesale manufacture and the distributing shoe store were practically, if not entirely unknown in this early
We will now turn to Franklin, Massachusetts in the days of the American Revolution.
Running a farm and doing custom shoe business was a colonial patriot Royal or Aroyal Bragg, who in the
stress of the war decided to enlist in the army and help the cause. This he did, leaving his wife and children
to tend and harvest the crops.
While in the service he contracted a case of small-pox which proved fatal, leaving a fatherless family.
Tories in the neighborhood destroyed the crops on the widow’s farm and the family became destitute. As
was the custom in such cases, a part of the children were bound out.
One son, Arial, was bound to an unscrupulous master who misappropriated his ward’s cash and personal
property. Arial tells of being served a boiled pig’s ear for dinner which was cooked without washing or
removing the hair.
As soon as he was able, Arial purchased his freedom by doing outside work and paying a specified sum for
his release. Leaving his unkind master, he went to Brookline and found work with Jonas Tolman as an
apprentice shoe-maker. Being an apt pupil, he was soon able to make first class shoes and could satisfy
Mr. Tolman’s most exacting customers.
During his apprenticeship, he contracted small-pox and had a severe case. This was during the great
epidemic in Boston.
After recovery, he worked and paid all bills incurred during his sickness, after which he resigned and in 1793
came to Holliston and began the wholesale manufacture of shoes.
For his first venture in the new project he had tools valued at $2.50, four calf skins costing $7.00 and forty
pounds of sole leather the value of which is unknown.
From this material he manufactured 22 pairs of shoes. When they were done, he hired a horse from a
neighbor, bought a bag of hay, and before daylight was off for Providence with the shoes in sale bags and
the hay tied to the saddle. Arriving in Providence, he sold his shoes for $21.50 and when the horse had
been fed, started for home. On the way, in Attleborough, he bought from a currier, Draper by name, several
calf skins for a new stock and then continued to Franklin where he again fed his horse and arrived in
Holliston before dark the same day.
My research discloses that many other custom shoe makers did wholesale work in their spare time, but I
have not found record of any other who did only wholesale manufacture. Shoes were imported from
England in barrel lots, but I believe that Arial was the first strictly wholesale manufacturer in the United States.
Within the space of two years, he had two men working for him. At the beginning of his work in Holliston, he
boarded with one Asa Rockwood. In April 1794, he moved to board with Asa Norcross, where he divided his
time between farm work and shoe manufacture. In October 1795, he moved to board with Elias Lovering
and in April he hired Jonathan Bryant for one year for $90.
On October 19 of this year, 1795, he moved his business to a house owned by Aaron Phipps. This house
was the first in Milford on the left hand side of the road from Holliston to Milford.
Here with his mother as housekeeper, he continued manufacturing until April 1796, when his helper’s time
Upon balancing his books, he found a profit of $175 for six months manufacturing. Dissatisfied with the
return, he changed to the manufacture of a cheap shoe for the southern slave trade. This continued for six
months, when he found he had cleared $350.
During the following winter, he made calf shoes again at little profit beyond the cost of board for the period,
including house-rent at $19.00 for the year and wood at $1.25 per cord, rye at $1.25 and corn at $1.00 a
bushel; pork at .08 per pound and beef on the hoof at $5.50 per/hundred pounds. With other expenses in
proportion, so that the cost per individual was $1.04/week.
On June 25, 1799, he went into business in Holliston with Hamlet Barber. They hired a boy and two men
and continued until April 1800 when they closed the business and Arial went on a long vacation to visit a
brother who lived in New York state.
After his visit, he returned to Holliston where he manufactured shoes until 1801 when he went to Baltimore
and engaged in various lines of business.
Returning to Holliston in 1803, he bought a farm from Captain Perry Daniels. This farm was located in
Milford not far from the Phipps place where he had previously done manufacturing.
In March 1803, he moved on to his farm; hired Isaac Kibble of Medway and Luther Pumroy of Northampton
and resumed business of fine shoe manufacture.
He expanded his business by the addition of one man each year until 1809 when he had six men besides
himself. In this year, he curtailed business to allow himself time to supervise the building of a new
When the residence was done, he resumed business and increased it rapidly, until 1829 when a new shop
was necessary to accommodate the larger demand. The new shop was 20 x 30 feet and two stories high.
When done, it was the largest shoe factory in the town of Milford.
When Arial came to Milford, there was a custom shoe-maker who lived in the first house on Adams Street in
Holliston on the left hand side. A few years ago this house was partially destroyed by fire. Inspection of the
ruins indicate that it was a very old house; probably older than the house first occupied by Arial when he
came into Milford.
The name of this shoemaker is now unknown, but the fact that he manufactured an unusual pair of boots is
well established. The front of these boots was a single piece of leather folded and formed to conform to the
outline of the front of the leg running down over the instep to the toes. This placed the seams on the side of
the leg and made a superior looking boot, with the front seam eliminated. These boots came to the
attention of Arial and he endeavored to learn how it was done. Being unsuccessful, he set about finding a
way to do it with the result of the invention of the boot-tree. This was an entirely new piece of apparatus and
large numbers of them were required in the process of crimping. To supply this demand, Estabrook and
Wires assumed the manufacture, and were the only firm manufacturing them in the United States during this
period. Their inability to meet the demand during the war was a serious handicap in the supplying of army
By the time Arial was building his new 20 x 30 foot shop, there were several other shops in operation in
Milford and vicinity. Among them was Lee Clarlin who attained the age of 20 in 1819 and could only have
just begun manufacturing. Of all manufacturers of whom I have found record, only Luther Claflin was old
enough to have begun business before 1818. He became 20 in 1800 and may have been manufacturing
well before Arial built his large factory. If there were others doing a manufacturing business at this early
date, neither Mr. Ballou nor the earliest directory make any mention of them.
All available information would indicate that in the early years of Arial’s operations the soles of shoes were
sewed on. It would appear that the screw nail, so called, a product manufactured by Estabrook & Wires,
came into use before the shoe peg. I base my estimate of this on the fact that published records report that
the iron facing on the bottom of the lasts to insure clinching of the nails was removed to adapt the lasts to
use for pegged shoes.
The peg was invented by a resident of Hopkinton. Before the advent of the nail and peg, the bottoms of
shoes were sewed on after the uppers were lasted.
There were two general ways of doing this. In one method the edges of the upper were drawn over the last
and fastened, after which the depression in the center was built up to be level with the edges of the upper;
then the sole was sewed on.
In the other method, the lasting was done in such a way as to have the edges of the upper turn out when the
sole was applied and stitched through the edge. This type of bottoming was called “stitch downs” and if I
am not much mistaken it is still used to some extent.
When first put on the market, pegged shoes were a superior article but the invention of the pegging machine
developed a fault which soon put them out of use. For machine operation, it was necessary to make so
large an awl hole that the pegs failed to hold properly, and the bottoms came off. With hand-pegging a small
hole and sell driven peg held very firmly. These pegs were of varied lengths to correspond with the
thickness of material through which they were driven. They were made of hard wood, either birch or maple,
and about 1/16 ” square. Factories using them had to buy a new equipment of lasts or remove the metal
plates from the lasts used for nails. Pegged shoes required a new tool in the finishing process, a peg
cutter, to reach inside and cut off the points of the pegs above the surface of the inner sole.
I am informed on good authority that Arial Bragg was the first manufacturer to put pegged shoes on sale in
the Providence market.
In these early years of the business all goods were hauled to market in wagons and delivery in Boston
required two days; one to drive in and the next to return home.
In 1822, William Godfrey established a stage coach route from Mendon to Boston and soon after it was
extended to New York. This facility was helpful in establishing new firms in the business.
The 1846 directory, which I believe was the first ever published, listed the following firms in Milford: Obed
Austin, Henry Ball, Homer T. Ball, George S. Bowker, Fowler Bragg, Col. Arial Bragg, Mollen Bragg, Willard
Bragg, Seth P. Carpenter, Lee Claflin, Chapin & Mann, Fufus Chapin, Luther Chapin, Edward & D. Daniels,
Washington Ellis, Hunt & Cheny, Jeremiah Kelley, Cophas Lawrence, John Mason, Amasa Parkhurst,
Ebenezer Parkhurst, O. B. Parkhurst, W. F. Sandler, Andrew J. Summer, Otis Thayer, Sials Tingley, Orison
Underwood, Dexter Walker, Samuel Walker and Elias Whitney.
In this period a manufacturer with a little shop could carry on a business out of all proportion to the size of
his factory. The country was full of little home shops where the farm owner did a considerable amount of
work for the shoe manufacturer in his little room or home shop.
The leather was cut and arranged by pairs in case lots in the factory and properly tied to keep it from
becoming mixed in handling. The workman who sewed or closed as it was called would take several cases
home to his little shop of the room where he did the sewing and perform the task at any time convenient for
him so long as the work was returned to the factory on time.
The uppers which he worked on were sewed together inside out, and when done, soaked to render them
pliable, then turned so the right side would be out. This was an operation which required good wrist power,
particularly on heavy boots.
When turned, the seams were hammered down on a wooden roll, so that the seams were little thicker than
the rest of the leather. Well sewed and properly hammered, the seams were practically water-tight.
When working, the operator sat astride a clamp, so built as to provide a scat for him with a six inch wide foot
operated clamp in front of him, the same being at a convenient height.
With the work firmly held by the clamp, the workman with his awl in the right hand made the first hole at the
beginning of the seam. Then with the waxed end, so called, a waxed thread with hog bristles twisted on
each end, he would pull the thread half way through the stitch. When this was done, the hole for the next
stitch was made, and the bristles were inserted from each side and the waxed thread pulled tight. This left
the thread double in the leather at each stitch, and the stickiness of the wax prevented slipping. At the
present time some types of ladie’s shoes are sewed inside out and turned before bottoming.
When the sewer’s work came back to the shop, it was inspected to see that the seams were tight and
properly done, and the tops were then ready to go to the laster and bottomer where the soles were put on.
His equipment was a wooden post set in the edge of a bench at a convenient height. This post was long
enough to permit the leg of the boot to be drawn over it. When pulled on to the post, the last was placed
upon an iron spur in the top of the post. It was held in position so that the toe of the last was supported by a
pad with the leather next to the last. In this position the leather could be pulled over the last and secured by
small tacks to permit placing the outer sole and pegging it to the upper. When fully pegged and the heel
built on, the bottom was ready for trimming and burnishing of both the bottom and edges of the sole and
heel. The work was then returned to the shop and the final dressing and packing for shipment was done.
We now have some idea of the beginnings of the boot and shoe business and those engaged in it up to
1846. In the next ten years, many drastic changes occurred. The railroad came in 1848 and a revolution in
travel and shipping goods came with it.
In the Braggville district where a group of manufacturers were centered, two large new shops were built near
the railroad station and at least three of the Bragg firms occupied them.
Power machinery came in and a shirt from the little home shop to a central factory was well under way.
In addition to these changes, the railroad established its large granite business in Braggville and offered
other and perhaps more profitable work.
Be that as it may, in 1856 only eleven of the previously listed firms were operating: Henry Ball, Homer T. Ball,
Seth P. Carpenter, Godfrey Colburn & Co., John Goldsmith, C. B. Parkhurst, Otis Thayer, Orison Underwood,
Emory Walker, Samuel Walker and Elias Whitney.
In this period ending in 1869, the following new firms came into operation: Z. A. Adams, Alden & Harrington,
Calvin Barber, James H. Barker, Edwin F. Battles, George B. Blake & Co., Arial Bragg Jr., Fransis A. Bragg,
Fowler Bragg, Mellen Bragg, Willard Bragg, Bragg & Rich, D. C. Chapin, Aaron Maitlin, Claflin & Thayer, Cole
and Brother, Austin Daniels, John I. Daniels, Samuel Haynes, Hiram Hunt, J. F. Hunt, Johnson Rust & Co.,
George Jones & Son, Otis Lawrence, Lee Libby, Elbridge Mann, A. C. Mayhew & Co., High O’Brien, Samuel
Oliver, Nelson Parkhurst, Andrew J. Sumner, Zimri Tburbar, Underwood Sons & Fisher, Artemas B. Vant, and
Walker Johnson & Co.
I would now call attention to the period from 1869 to 1891. This was the period following the war and
reconstruction was having its effect as well as the rapid mechanization of the business. They were the last
of the little home shops and work was centralizing in the factory.
Twenty two firms before mentioned continued into this period: Alden & Harrington, George B. Blake & Co., F.
A. Bragg, D. G. Chapin, Aaron Claflin, Claflin & Thayer, Clement Colburn & Co., Cochrane & Thayer, John F.
Daniels, C. B. Godfrey & Co., Munroe A. Goldsmith, Bainbridge Hayward, Henry & Daniels, Johnson Rust &
Co., Lee Libby, A. C. Mayhew & Co., Andrew J. Sumner, Artamas B. Vant, Walker Johnson Co.
New firms starting in this period were. H. S. Bacon& Co., Francis M. Ball, Zenas Ball, William Chamberlain,
Chapin Bros., Daniel Constock & Co., Fogg Houghton & Coolidge, Foster and Quiggle, Rolan E. Foster,
John C. Gilman, Gilman and Rafferty, Holbrook & Fist, Ezra F. Holbrook, Houghton Coolidge & Co., James S.
Kelly, E. Mann & Son, John S. Mayhew & Co., William Nash, Charles F. Quiggle, Charles F. Quiggle & Co.,
The Tucker Shop, Moses Walker.
The drastic changes aided by much labor trouble during this period eliminated shop after shop until at the
beginning of the period 1891 to 1920 only the two first, James S. Kelly and Charles F. Quiggle, were carrying
on business and the little shop was a matter of history.
The piece work done was firmly established and the workmen had become slaves to a whistle and a
foreman to watch them all the time.
In this period I find the following new firms started in business: Clapp Huckins & Temple, Coburn Fuller &
Co., Driscoll Shoe Co., Howard Bros., Huckins Temple & Wood, Newhall & Buckley, Regal Shoe Co.
I refrain from mention of the business in the last twenty yeas as everyone knows of the present-day firms.
You will all realize that so large a list of manufacturers must have required an immense amount of supplies,
and that many firms were busy making accessories. I have found record of 55 Milford firms who were
engaged in the manufacturers of equipment and accessories. I am now compiling as complete a history as
possible of all these firms and have found information very meager. If any of you have information which
would make my record more complete, I shall appreciate it if you will confer with me. To close my talk with
In the late 1880’s, there lived in the town of Chester a man whose mental ability was less than normal. He
would make the most unusual things. One of his productions was a small trunk ornamented with all kinds
of brass buttons, brass buckles, and other trinkets. So remarkable was it that a large clothing house in
Springfield gave him a suit of clothes for the use of the trunk as a display in their window. This firm was
Packard’s One Price Clothing House, and for advertising used the initials P. O. P. C. H. Some wag dubbed it
Poor Old People Cheated Here.
This same fellow needed a new pair of shoes and went to a custom cobbler who lived across the road from
me, where he made them himself, punching the tops full of holes for ventilation. The whole community
laughed at him and his fool shoes. As I look back to his time I am led to wonder whether Liam was crazy or
fifty years ahead of his time.
My grandfather was a boot manufacturer and like his father, owned a sizeable farm. This was in the days of
the railroad stone business and as an accommodation he allowed the carting of the stone across his land.
One day he shipped boots to a customer, and when the case was opened, it was full of rubbish, the boots
having been removed. He made a claim for damages and was put off until one day the claim agent told him
if he ever came into the office again he would be thrown out. When he got home, he and his son built a wall
across the road and warned the driver not to use the road any more. Word went to Boston the next day and
the claim agent immediately adjusted the claim.
Notes added by E. Jane Coleman, October 1978:
Valuation and Tax List 1868
Town of Mendon
Albee, Enos T. House 1200, barn 150, boot-shop 400, house (new) 600, la.
Land 100, la. Taft land 80, lsa. sprout land 25, horse 125, buggy
And harness 60, wagon and sleigh 45, machinery 300
George, Nathan Boot-shop 2700 (Wheelock place)
10 shares Shoe & Leather Dealers’ Bank 1227
Comstock Shop (Hastings Street) machinery 300, stock in trade 3,000
Valuation and Tax List 1872
Town of Mendon
Albee, Enos T. Boot-shop 300
Albee, Charles H. Stock in trade 700, machinery 300
Comstock Same as 1868
George, Julius A. Boot-shop 2500 (Wheelock place)
Valuation and Tax List 1878
Town of Mendon
Albee not listed for boot-shop, personal property only
Comstock Boot-shop 300
George, Julius A. Stock in trade 7,000, machinery 350
Valuation and Tax List 1885
Town of Mendon
Albee, Charles H. machinery 150, engine and boiler 300, shop 100
Comstock not listed for boot-shop; house, barn and land only
George, Julius A. Machinery 100, boot-shop 1500
Valuation and Tax List 1895
Town of Mendon
None of the above listed
E. T. Albee boot-shop shown on 1857 map of Mendon
Wheelock’s Boot M’fy on 1857 map of Mendon-later Nathan George- about where block building in center of
Mendon now located.
Comstock’s not on 1857 map
The Dear Old Shop
See M.M Aldrich’s poem about it: first run by the Wheelocks, who probably built the house in back of it on
Maple Way’ later the Jule George home; in 1968 the home of Austin Taft. The boot shop stood about where
the Post Office Block is a present.
This handbill is in the Historical Museum:
Will be leased at auction, on the premises, for the term of one year, on Wednesday, April 1st at 2 o’clock P.M.
The large three story boot shop, near the Post Office in Mendon, built and recently occupied by Joseph R.
At the same time and place, 10 to 15 acres of good mowing land.
John G. Metcalf
Executor of the Will of Mary M. Hayward, deceased
Mortgagee in possession, Mendon, March 19, 1863
Milford Cheap Job Press – 86 Main St.
G. W. Stacy, Pr.
The Knights of Saint Crispin Mendon Lodge #80
Saints Crispin and Crispinian were Christian martyrs and patron saints of shoemakers and other workers in
leather. It is not certain whether they were brothers. According to legend, the two set out as missionaries of
the Christian faith and traveled to Soissons in Gaul, where they made many converts while earning a
livelihood by shoemaking. Their festival falls on October 25, the day in 286 or 287 on which they were
beheaded by order of Emperor Maximian, during Diocletian’s persecution of the Christians.
From the Encyclopedia Americana
Volume 8, page 210, 1958 Edition
Order of the Knights of Saint Crispin was a secret early American shoemaker’s union. After establishment
of its first active lodge in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on May 7, 1867, the order spread to Massachusetts and
other shoe-manufacturing states. In 1878, when the first International Grand Lodge meeting was held at
Rochester, New Your, there were some 600 chapters, and by 1870, membership had reached 50,000.
Major aims of the order were the assurance, in the immediate present, of steady employment and fair
wages for its members, and for the future, “self-employment”. The organization also fought vigorously
against mechanization of the shoe industry. Although successful in a series of strikers in 1869-1870, the St.
Crispins were later so consistently defeated in strike efforts that they had virtually disappeared by the end of
1874. Other factors contributing to their decline were untrustworthy leadership and the order’s interference
in politics. Following a revival attempt in 1875, the order again folded in 1878, its membership drifting into
the Knights of Labor to become that organization’s largest trade element.
From the Encyclopedia Americana
Volume 16, page 486, 1958 Edition
The Knights of Saint Crispin, Mendon Lodge #80, was organized in 1868. It was a secret order with signs
and a password for recognition. One became a member by favorable ball-ballot (if less than 7 black bells
appeared against one, he was declared elected, but if 7 or more black bells appeared against him, he was
declared rejected) and the payment of $1.00 initiation fee and $.25 monthly dues. Any male person 18 years
of age or over was eligible to membership, providing he had worked two years at boot or shoemaking and
was at the time engaged at his trade.
The Mendon Historical Museum has the original ballot box used by Mendon Lodge #80 K.O.S.C. and the
charter granted to the lodge along with the constitution, initiation procedures and records from 1868-1874.
Names of some of the Mendon members of Mendon Lodge #80 K.O.S.C.:
E. H. Taft Edward Kirby
P. A. Wheeler Lucius Lowell
Wm. P. Whiting William Carlton
Silas Lesheur Timothy B. Gunn
L. Leslie Fletcher Henry Moore
M. M. Aldrich W. F. Whiting
Abel Weatherhead Samuel Taft
G. A. Staples James Quigley
Cummings Briggs Otis H. Inman
P. Phetteplace Warren F. Bartlett
Charles Fletcher W. P. Seals
Edward C. Kinsley
Compiled by E. Jane Coleman
Librarian, Mendon Historical Society