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
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
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
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,
atthe 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
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
$70.00 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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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. Wheelock.
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 American, 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