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Shoe Making

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Notes from the Paynesville Historical Society. . .

Shoe making is an old profession
By Dolores Hislop

The making of shoes is an old profession dating back to early man who needed something to protect his feet.

The Paynesville Historical Museum has various shoe styles on display. The first shoes you will see are moccasins that were worn by the Indians. The moccasin is similar to the ones worn in Northern Europe dating back about 1900 to 650 B.C. The North American Indians used deerskin and decorated the shoe with beads. It was a soft, hand-sewn shoe made of one large piece of leather with a smaller piece inserted over the toes and instep area.

People who traveled in different climates had different footwear. It ranged from sandals worn in warm countries to fur lined boots in cold areas. The great civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt brought to us the three standard styles of footwear: shoes, boots, and sandals. The Persians made a shoe of soft material that covered the foot and tied with laces at the ankle. They later had a shoe slit at the instep and fitted with a tongue.

Shoes kept evolving and by 1545 shoes were cut more to the natural form of a foot. The white men in America wore moccasins until 1629 when a shoemaker of London, Thomas Beard, brought a kit of tools to Massachusetts and became the first recorded shoemaker in the colonies.

The kit contained a lap stone, a flat face hammer, awls, waxed ends. knives, rub sticks, a piece of shark skin for buffing the leather, and a bottle of blacking. Binding shoes (the stitching of the uppers) was commonly done by women.

In the beginning of the 19th century, there was another change, the rise of shoemaking in America. Earlier shoemakers, or cobblers, traveled from town to town staying long enough to make up shoes for family members. They also carried the news from one settlement to another. Then, shoemakers settled down and started their own business using apprentices to learn the trade. in 1750, John Adams Dagyr imported shoes and copied them so the newspapers urged people to buy shoes made in America rather than the imported article. He had the first shoe factory in America.

Shoe machines were invented and in 1818, the Kimble-last, made right and left shoes possible. Before this, shoes were interchangeable and not very comfortable. In 1845, the rolling machine was invented which took the place of the lap stone and hammer used to pound or toughen leather. In 1848, the sewing machine was invented by Elias Howe, John Nichols adapted it for the shoe trade and Isaac Singer perfected the machine. Other machines were invented to split hides for uniform thickness and for cutting out shoe parts. A machine was made to sew soles to the shoes in 1858.

Old Paynesville had a shoeshop run by Dave McGoon. He also had a shoeshop in North Town, as did Charles Knedel. New Paynesville also had a shoeshop and various stores that sold shoes. The Zapf Leather and Western Wear is well-known for the repairing of shoes, saddles, harnesses, and also canvas repair. It has been a business in Paynesville since 1915 and has served the area from then to present.

The museum has an exhibit which features the shoe trade. Machines, tools, and shoes are on display which allows you to see how shoes were made. During your tour of the museum, you will see examples of the various shoe styles worn by people.

Please come, visit, and wear your comfortable shoes.