Against All Odds - Jan Matzeliger


We want to give a hat tip to @ddsoffice for pointing us to this incredible story.

Jan Ernst Matzeliger (September 15, 1852 – August 24, 1889) was an inventor of Surinamese and Dutch descent best known for patenting the shoe lasting machine, which made footwear affordable for all. Matzeliger would toil for years, skimping on food to save money, and rooting through junkyards and factory dumps for good parts to fit his requirements. His patent was 15 pages long and was so complex the patent office needed explanation. They too were amazed that such insight and ideas came from such a poor lonely black man. He would eventually build and commercialize his machine in 1885 and within a decade every shoe manufacture would acquire at least one of his machines. Matzeliger would not get rich. He would sell his patents a few years prior to his death for $15,000. His patents would form the base for the United Shoe Machinery Corporation which would later monopolize shoe manufacturing.

The story of Jan Matzeliger would go virtually unknown until the early 1990’s. You can read the full life story of Jan Matzeliger [HERE].

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Matezeliger provides another great example of innovation leaping out of limitations.

Matezeliger searched through junkyards and factory dumps for good parts from broken machinery - forgings, gears, pulleys, levers, and cams - and spent long hours altering existing parts to fit his requirements. It is scarcely surprising that he had some battles with depression and at times became extremely discouraged. He was, after all, trying alone to fabricate with parts cannibalized from broken equipment, a phenomenally complex machine that defeated able men who commanded all the machining talent money could buy.