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
    awkward.

    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
    period.

    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
    was out.

    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
    residence.

    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
    boots.

    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 Bost
    on 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
    two incidents:

    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
                                                           Taxes 28.23

    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
                           Boot-shop 300

    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
                                          Boot-shop 2500

    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:

                                                                Notice

    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.
    Wheelock.

                                                                  Also

    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
                                                   06/05/67

                                                                                             
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