Monroe explores the history of shoemaking

Reporter in Residence
Monroe Mouse

I must say the most insignificant thing can spark my imagination. Just the other day a sheet of paper sticking out of a file folder drew my attention.

Now, I challenge our readers to know what a shoe peg is. The folder’s one sheet of paper that sparked my research was a 1998 article “Shoe Pegs and Pocono Timber” from
Dignity magazine. The photo in the article certainly wasn’t a shoe! Even without a caption I would have known that it was a mill that manufactured this product from wood.

On reading the article I found that that the photo was a mill that produced shoe pegs. The mill was located in Pocono Pines and was owned by Isaac Stauffer. I knew exactly what a shoe peg was because I had recently seen them on a visit to the basement of the Stroud Mansion.

The tiny wooden pegs (a tapered ¾-inch of wood a little thicker than a wooden match) were used to attach the sole of the shoe to the upper leather portion. It was mostly young men who completed this operation and they were known as shoepeggers. Shoe pegs manufactured in the Poconos were not used only in the Poconos. A Barrett shop peg factory shipped pegs as far as Bremen, Germany.

Shoes were made by the cobbler who was also known as a shoemaker. A cobbler was among the first colonists to arrive in Jamestown in 1619.

Like all apprentices, a future cobbler had to prove his skill. This test consisted of completing 3 pairs of lace-up shoes in cow hide to secure his license. Early shoes were often referred to as “straights” because the same last was used for both shoes and there was no indication of right or left. With wear, shoes often took on the contour of the person’s feet.

Historically, people purchased shoes from a cobbler, and then brought them to his shop over the years for repair. A single pair of shoes could last for 10 years. If you are fortunate to live in a town where there is a shoe repair shop, you may find a cobbler using some of the same tools that have been used for centuries.

Plan a visit to the Stroud Mansion to see actual tools used by the cobbler.

Can you identify them in this photograph?

Last — Block of wood carved into the shape of a foot, served as a mold to fashion each shoe.

Awl — Used to puncture holes in the leather for pegs and later to stitch the soles to the shoe.

Stretching Pliers — Particularly useful for stretching leather on the upper parts of boots. They were also useful in order to pull the leather over the soles of the shoes.

Burnisher —Used to shine the leather. The burnisher used in the American colonial era was a heated iron used to polish the soles and the heels.