Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cordwainer Class

A Cordwainer is someone who makes shoes. The distinction is that a Cobbler is someone who repairs shoes. Remember the information, as you will be able to impress your friends with that knowledge if you tuck it away, and use it at just the right time. The picture was taken in 1899 at a trade school.

I enjoyed the comments yesterday, especially the ones from people who have jobs where they actually build things. We heard from a carpenter's wife, and from a man who does custom woodwork. We learned that these are tough businesses to be in these days.

Shoe making, like so many things, is pretty much all done overseas now. There is a place near where I live that sill makes custom boots and saddles. Their hand made boots are built to exacting standards, and are made specifically to careful measurements of each of your feet. A pair of these custom boots is highly prized, and people come from all over the world to have a pair made. The company is M. L. Leddy's


  1. Alas, a lot of our manufacturing is going or has already gone over seas, thanks to a combination of labor unions, high corporate tax rates and over-regulation.

    Nobody in my family makes things for a living. My husband is an engineer and I am a stay at home, homeschooling Mom.
    My great-grandfather was a maker of fine furniture before the Depression forced him into farming.

  2. It is interesting, given the date on the photo, that half of the students seem to be people of colour.
    Hubby has badly misshapen feet, due to a genetic condition, and he gets his shoes from L. G. Soles, in Creston, NC. Pricey, but worth every cent, and they last forever. It is actually cheaper to mail the shoes back to have the resoled than to go to a local outfit, although I think they are part of a chain, and have to pay mall rent.

  3. It appears that their classroom is a small partitioned area in a larger building, perhaps a warehouse. It may be rented space. Or perhaps the larger building is a shoe factory.

    Woodworking today still has a thriving student base and is taught in colleges, private schools, stores like Woodcraft, and in barns and shops of woodworkers. Although woodworking craftsmanship is threatened I would not yet say it is endangered.

    One of the economic forces against teaching the various trades in the public schools at a young age is that insurance companies do not like the risk of children working with tools and machines. Another is that we are an information based culture which no longer understands the usefulness of working with the hands.

  4. My wife is from Hamilton, Missouri. It is the home of J.C. Penny, yes the real J.C.Penny store owner.
    He got International Shoes to build a factory there with the promise that J.C.Penny stores would buy every pair of shoes that they made.
    Penny died in 1971.
    I know the store was there in the early 1980's, but has closed since because like other big chain stores, they can buy it cheaper when not made in the USA.
    I wonder if J. C. Penny was still alive, if they still would be buying their shoes made in the USA?

  5. Cordwainers and Cobblers... good to know. The little benches that they are sitting on are interesting too... I've never seen anything like them. :)

  6. We refinish furniture, most often antiques and we have done it for 30 years. Life isn’t what it use to be. The elderly with good antiques be it furniture, or other items, are selling them off. The young people wouldn’t know an antique if it came up and bit them in the butt. The history and appreciation of the past is no longer taught to them either in school or by their parents. Neither are the young interested in antiques because the ‘fashion trend’ is minimalist design and from a lot of homes I go into they have about as personality as a display on some furniture store floor. As well, more furniture is coming from offshore and it for the most part is garbage, planned obsolescence and along with other manufactured items from offshore, just the diapers of society. Sadly N. America has become a land of ‘consumers’ and we actually make less and less.

    Myrtle said “Alas, a lot of our manufacturing is going or has already gone over seas, thanks to a combination of labor unions, high corporate tax rates and over-regulation.”

    In part I agree but unions gave people good working conditions, good hours, better pay and holidays etc that we often forget about. I’ve never worked in a union so I am not advocating for them. However I do feel that a lot of corporations in N. America are ‘using’ desperate foreign workers who are paid unbelievable low wages and work in horrendous conditions and that is unfair and unjust and in some cases inhumane. Basically our corporate leaders have found new slaves, just in another part of the world.

  7. Wait, wait Anonymous! My 9 year old daughter is very interested in 'antiques' and items from the past, especially those made by her grandparents and great grandparents and beyond. I know that is not the norm, but there are those out there who still appreciate such things.

    These historical photos are always a good source of daily conversations for us. Wouldn't it be great if all classrooms could start off with a quick peek at OPD! Sure would prevent anyone from calling a shoemaker a cobbler!


  8. Anonymous,

    American companies with manufacturing plants overseas have some of the most desirable jobs for low/non-skilled workers in those countries. People in those countries are desperate for a shot at a better way of life, and manufacturing jobs for an American company are prized possessions. You can't judge those countries by the same measure you would ours. I read a report about an Apple component supplier in China who was dinged for working their people for too many hours, by our American standards. So the supplier is limiting their people to the recommended 49 hours max/week. Apple's happy, the outside workers rights groups are happy, everyone's happy except the workers, who now can't work the extra hours they had been which allowed them to give their families some of the extras in life we take for granted. Judge them by the alternatives those people have. Their standard of living will increase with time, if they are allowed to progress freely. It took over 100 years to achieve our standard of living and comfort, things and people don't change overnight.

    As for unions, it never made sense to me that everyone gets paid the same thing, no matter how good or bad a job they do. And I've read about companies and governments who have been stymied in small courtesies, like the union not allowing one team to be awarded Wal-Mart gift cards for outstanding performance because that meant lower-performing didn't get them. Labor banks where people got 90% of their pay for sitting around because union contracts required that instead of layoffs. Times are different now then they were 80 - 120 years ago. Things that were once tolerated are no longer accepted because of our wealth and the many communication sources which bring these issues into the light of day. If unions changed with the times, and realized we're not in the first half of the 20th century anymore, they might find a productive place for themselves.

    'Nuff said.

  9. You are correct about the Leddy boots and saddles.I was introduced to the boots in the late fifties when My Dad bought me a pair for use during my summers on my uncles Sierra Blanca Ranch. I kept them until my feet grew out of them, but they were comfortable to work in all day.

    In 1958 my cousin and I found what was left of a Leddy saddle deep under an overhanging rock deep in the Black Mountains that were part of the large ranch. It was really dried out but you could clearly see the Leddy markings on the back of the cantel. I have always wondered about the story behind that old saddle.

  10. Well said Tom P re:unions.

    PJM- I missed the post yesterday about people who still make stuff. So I put my comment under that post.

    Thanks for the shoe history. I always thought a cobbler made shoes and not just repair/resole them.

    I like peach and cherry cobbler too.

  11. Hersey Custom Shoe Company, for athletic shoes located in Maryland, USA

    Grundman for work boots, located in Indiana, USA


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