As late as 1850 most shoes were made on absolutely straight lasts, there is no difference between the right and the left shoe.
As late as 1850 most shoes were made on absolutely straight lasts, there is no difference between the right and the left shoe. Breaking into a new pair of shoes was not easy. There were but two widths to size; a basic last was used to produce what was known as a "slim" shoe. When it was necessary to make a "fat" or "stout" shoe the shoemaker placed over the cone of the last a pad of leather to create the additional foot room needed.
Up to 1850, all shoes were made with practically the same hand tools that were used in Egypt as early as the 14th century B.C. as a part of a sandal maker's equipment. To the curved awl, the chisel-like knife, and the scraper, the shoemakers of the thirty-three intervening centuries had added only a few simple tools such as the pincers, the lapstone, the hammer, and a variety of rubbing sticks used for finishing edges and heels.
Efforts had been made to develop machinery for shoe production. They had all failed and it remained for the shoemakers of the United States to create the first successful machinery for making shoes.
In 1845 the first machine to find a permanent place in the shoe industry came into use. It was the Rolling Machine, which replaced the lapstone and hammer previously used by hand shoemakers for pounding sole leather, a method of increasing wear by compacting the fibers. This was followed in 1846 by Elias Howe's invention of the sewing machine. The success of this major invention seems to have set up a chain reaction of research and development that has gone on ever since. Today there are no major operations left in shoemaking that are not done better by machinery than formerly by hand.