-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------If you were with me last week exploring Lawrence Keen’s shoemaking career you know that he is in Zanesville, Ohio, in 1850 when the sewing machine is invented. (If you missed that post, click on 52 Ancestors in left column.) I presume that at this point in the progression of shoemaking Lawrence had to step back and evaluate his circumstances. Would he need to mechanize and relearn his trade? How long could he continue to support his growing family as an independent shoemaker? Would he have to become a wage-earner, making shoes in the factory? And on and on…
Lawrence and Elizabeth Keen were young parents with five children by 1856. They were witnessing drastic changes that hit close to home. In that regard, I’ve excerpted information from Wikipedia below that relates to those modernization issues in Lawrence’s occupation:
“Until the 19th century, shoemaking was a traditional handicraft, but by the century's end, the process had been almost completely mechanized, with production occurring in large factories. Despite the obvious economic gains of mass-production, the factory system produced shoes without the individual differentiation that the traditional shoemaker was able to provide.
The sewing machine was introduced in 1846, and provided an alternative method for the mechanization of shoemaking. By the late 1850s, the industry was beginning to shift towards the modern factory, mainly in the US and areas of England. A shoe stitching machine was invented by the American Lyman Blake in 1856 and perfected by 1864. Entering in to partnership with McKay, his device became known as the McKay stitching machine and was quickly adopted by manufacturers throughout New England. As bottlenecks opened up in the production line due to these innovations, more and more of the manufacturing stages, such as pegging and finishing, became automated. By the 1890s, the process of mechanization was largely complete.”
Coinciding with these mechanization developments was unrest within the shoe factory workers. Perhaps Lawrence was reading of the activity in the factories in Lynn, Massachusetts, a town that was well known as the shoemaking capital in 1860. There is a plethora of information on the Internet relating to this labor movement, called “The Lynn Shoemaker Strike of 1860:” The following excerpt from an article on the Today’s World website peeks at the problems surfacing in this new workplace. This news might have been on Lawrence’s mind as he worked hard to support his family and saw his business changing. As mentioned below, for the shoemakers in his era, there was a concern about what they called “competency.” That term had its own unique meaning in the 1860s. Read on:
“…In the pre-factory era, a worker looked forward to his "competency", the amount of savings that would carry into old age or used for disability. With the new system factory owners, not independent workers, controlled hours and wages as well as availability of work, and "competency" was no longer a sure thing. Lynn shoemakers were displeased by this loss of egalitarian balance, angry that they, the actual producers of the town's wealth, were forced to see their share of the shoe business's material rewards diminish even as their futures grew more uncertain….
Around 1860, the nation entered into a national recession and the owners cut wages and hours of the Lynn workers. The outraged workers saw an effort to degrade permanently the wages paid shoemakers in Lynn and declared a strike, demanding a standardized wage. This began the first nationally watched labor battle in U.S.history………The 1860 Lynn shoemaker strike…proved something of a last gasp.Technically it gained little in terms of better wages or working conditions.The strike was a success for it's display of worker militancy and the free public discussion of labor issues than any specific results.”
So where did all of these developments leave Lawrence? At the age of 37, he was dead in the center of this industry’s transformation. Did he buy that sewing machine and learn to speed up his own production? Did he find it necessary to reinvent his business? Would he have to relocate? Maybe he could make a living repairing the shoes people bought from the factories. How did he compete? Somehow he maintained the craft learned from his father in the 1840s with whatever adjustments were necessary for him to operate independently until 1889.
This historical research did shed some light on one question I’ve had for quite a while. I have often wondered why the Keen family uprooted from Zanesville around 1866 to move to Indianapolis. They had lived in Ohio for 20 years. And there were eight children in the family, ranging from 2 to 18 years old. I haven’t found any relatives that attracted them to move 230 miles west. But there is one reason that has and will always exist for leaving a homeland, or a home city -- work. That’s the reason that I leaned toward when thinking about this family’s migration. Obviously, moving to a city that’s four times larger presents opportunities for one whose livelihood depends on people needing shoes. That’s the simple answer, I guess.
However, this shoemaking history gives me a revised perspective on my ancestor’s motivation to start anew in Indianapolis…. customers, distance, independence, skills…. Now I’m looking at more issues. Was he losing his business to the factories and simply pushed to find more clientele? Might he have also been literally putting more distance between his shoe shop and the east coast factories? Were the cities in the “west” slower in buying from the shoe factories? Was preserving his independent shop the overriding goal? Maybe he didn’t want to lose the control of his own cash flow, hours, etc., as he had heard tell of those other shoemakers who went to work in the factories. The reasons behind resettling his family from Ohio to a home in Indiana is probably rooted in more than one of these issues. Judging from his actions and these historical events, I can see that he took advantage of both the location and the population of Indianapolis to insure he could continue his chosen occupation on his own terms.
My shoemaking research is adding details and clarity to Lawrence’s story. But I have at least one new question as a result. It’s about the retirement planning we learned about in the above excerpt. Was he able to establish his “competency?” He may not have, since we know that he has a business address until his death in 1889 at the age of 66. Or maybe he was just enjoying his work and didn’t want to retire. I’ll choose to believe he loved the creative process that he went through each time he formed the insole on the last or stitched the upper on the sewing machine.
Regardless of the reason for uprooting his family to travel the National Road further west, I believe it’s established that Lawrence Keen was successful. He was able to rebuild his shoemaker business in the city of Indianapolis and operate on Virginia Avenue for 23 years.
I’ve enjoyed developing a clearer image of Lawrence Keen’s shoemaking years. I hope you will let me know your thoughts on his experiences, his decisions and any facts that would add to this story. Of course, as always, I am happy to share the sources related to the above history. Thanks so much for visiting Indiana Ties!
Other posts you may want to read: . .
52 Ancestors Stories
Fun Place: Boot and Shoe Recorder, June, 1906, Google eBooks
Research To Do:
1. Shoe industry in Indianapolis.
2. Further records of Baltimore, MD, marriages in 1845-1847.
copyright © Nancy Niehaus Hurley
First image above: Wikipedia Commons
Second image above: Google Images, janeaustensworld.wordpress.com