In late September 1902 in an extra edition of the Beverly Evening Times, the news was trumpeted that the United Shoe Machinery Company had picked a 150-acre site off Elliott Street in Beverly for a massive factory. Construction began the next year. When it was completed the huge complex held more than ten acres of floor space in three buildings, along with a foundry and drop forge. This building, by Ernest Ransome, was revolutionary in its day. Made of reinforced concrete it was a pioneer in industrial building techniques. The factory was so large that messengers carried documents from place to place on roller skates!
United Shoe Machinery Company, “The Shoe”
The company known as USMC, first formed in 1899, when three companies, Goodyear Machinery Company, Consolidated Hand Lasting Machine Company and McKay Shoe Machinery Company merged to begin the automation and standardization of the shoe making industry.
For many years “The Shoe”, as it came to be called, was Beverly’s largest employer; the firm hired 2,500 workers initially and it employed more than 6000 men and women during its peak. A staff of inventors worked on site, designing new machines used to make footwear. Each inventor had a private, completely equipped workroom and a draftsman was assigned to each inventor. The focus on research and invention paid off. Over the years the staff in this branch of the company designed hundreds of new and improved shoe machines and patenting more than 9,000 inventions.
The Shoe supported its workers in other ways as well. Employees were encouraged to engage in a variety recreation activities. Through the Athletic Association employees could join bowling leagues and basketball teams, play tennis, golf, cricket and soccer. Workers formed sewing circles, reading clubs and bands. The health of employees was looked after as well, with safety systems in place, and staff on hand for emergencies. Employees could even have their eyes checked at the factory. A restaurant was available for workers and land near the factory was divided into garden plots and allocated to the employees, extra produce was sold to the restaurant. From 1913 through the 1930s the “Sam-Sam” carnival was a community highlight – in 1935 approximately 40,000 people attended. Wages at USM were among the highest in the state. The progressive atmosphere encouraged employee loyalty and for many families several generations went to work there. A vocational training school for youth was introduced early in the 20th century, ensuring a trained workforce.
The factory brought workers from the countries of Italy, Canada, Sweden and Ireland, among others, adding to the rich ethnic diversity of Beverly which survives to this day. Almost from the first announcement of the new factory, new neighborhoods sprang up in Ryal Side, North Beverly and Prospect Hill to house the workers. Shingleville, the area closest to the factory, had streets named after men who contributed to the development of the shoe machine industry – McKay, Matthies, Goodyear, Sturtevant, and Blake streets, are all named to honor them. USM president Sidney Winslow requested in the early 1900s that North Beverly be renamed Winslowville – despite the enthusiasm the city leaders felt for the new employer the request was denied.
The coming to Beverly of the Shoe made a huge impact on our community through most of the 20th century. Although its departure in the 1980s was a blow, both to the economic health of Beverly and to the factory building, the Cummings Center has restored and enlarged the impressive structure and once more provided a place of employment for hundreds of workers.