By Katelyn Rota
Brockton, Massachusetts did not always look the way it was today. In the early 1900’s Brockton was known as “the shoe city.”
In 1919, shoe factories in Brockton employed 13,000 in 39 different shoe manufacturers. By the turn of the century there were over 91 shoe factories in the city.
Due to the civil war, soldiers were in desperate need of boots to wear while fighting. With new technology Brockton was able to meet the demand.
“From 1880 to 1920 Brockton was pretty much the biggest manufacturer of men’s shoes on the south shore. The North Shore was better known for women’s shoes,” Stonehill College archivist, Nicole Casper said.
One of the dominating shoe companies in Brockton was Geo E. Keith Company, Walk-Over Shoes. Mr. Keith, the company’s owner had extremely progressive views on how to take care of his employees. The factory was complete with an infirmary in its cafeteria, according to Casper.
The George E. Keith Company office was a five story building with a bowling alley and gym in the basement and a banquet hall and full kitchen for employees.
During the time of the shoe industry boom, Brockton had a huge immigrant population. It was rare to see any blacks working in these factories, according to Casper. At the time less than 20 percent of Brockton’s population were black at this time.
In 1905, one of Brockton’s greatest tragedies occurred, The Grover Shoe Company fire. Fifty six people died that day, they were all white.
Because of the boom of the shoe industry in Brockton, another industry flourished. The component industry which is the materials needed to make shoes such as leather, heels, and tools.
One surviving component factory is still in business in Brockton, the Barbour Welting Company. This company makes stakced heels for other shoe companies such as companies that make cowboy boots.
“At one point around 1900 there were 97 shoe factories in Brockton, but also probably another 100 components factories in town,” said Casper.
The last shoe factory in Brockton, Footjoy, closed its doors in 2006.
“The decline of the shoe industry in Brockton related to the unions. As unions came in, factories moved out. They also faced competition from over seas. Due to this foreign competition, a lot of factories moved down South where it was cheaper to produce their products,” said Casper.