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Jan Ernst Matzeliger
September 15, 1852 – August 24, 1889
Inventor and Innovator


Jan Ernst Matzeliger was an African-American inventor in the shoe industry.

Matzeliger was born in Paramaribo (then Dutch Guyana, now Suriname). His father was a Dutch engineer and his mother black Surinamese slave. He had some interest in mechanics in his native country, but his efforts at inventing a shoe-lasting machine began in the United States after a life of working in a machinery shop. He settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at 19 after working as a sailor. By 1877 he spoke adequate English and had moved to Massachusetts. After five years of work he patented his invention in 1883.

His machine would speed up the production of shoes considerably. Previously, working by hand, one could produce 50 pairs of shoes a day, but his machine could produce between 150 to 700 pairs of shoes a day. His shoe-lasting machine also cut the shoe prices across the nation in half[citation needed]. Despite that, a combination of early death in Lynn, Massachusetts from tuberculosis and other factors, meant he never saw the full profit of his invention. In recognition of his accomplishment he was honored on a postage stamp on September 15, 1991.

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