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View of building group; power plant to the left, assembly buildings to the right. Library of Congress Collection.
It changed the shape of our community. “Coming to Beverly,” read the headlines on September 25th, 1903. “Will employ over 2,500 men. Cost of plant half million.” The new colossus rose from a tract of land of both marshy bog and massive rock ledges near the mouth of the Bass River. Hundreds of Italian workers rearranged the natural landscape, grading with horse and wagon. Then came the buildings themselves, designed by engineer Eric Ransome. The plan was for three buildings: A and B to be 60 feet wide and 520 feet long, with building C somewhat shorter. There would be over 10 acres of floor space and 90% of the walls were glass. Built of reinforced concrete, a radical new technique, the factory was, at its birth, the largest factory in the world.

 

 
 
 
Interior View; Metal Lathe
Library of Congress Collection

This massive complex began, though, as a small idea in the head of Sidney Winslow, a man who learned shoe making at the knee of his father. Working long hours undoubtedly made him appreciate the benefits of mechanization and helped him move up to a directorship of Consolidated Hand Lasting Machine Company in 1889, a firm which had just entered the market with a lasting machine invented by a Dutch Guianan named Jan Matzeliger. Nearby lived the remarkable Gordon McKay, who bought up various patents involved in stitching leather uppers. During the Civil War, he gained great notoriety by providing the Army with 150,000 pairs of shoes using McKay machines. Meanwhile, the Goodyear Company introduced a method for sewing uppers to the soles which could be mechanized. The new technology revolutionized the business. In the span of thirty-five years, the labor costs for a pair of shoes dropped from $5.65 to a mere 74 cents. To join these three elements of innovation, the partners joined together on February 7th, 1899 to form the United Shoe Company.

 

 
 
 

“The factories at Beverly are spacious, clean, airy, well lighted. These things prevent accidents and save money. Baths and wash rooms preserve cleanliness. A hospital is attached to take care of accidents and injuries. An industrial school is maintained for the benefit of Beverly high school boys. Rest rooms for women and restaurants for all are a part of the system. The company maintains a clubhouse and grounds for its employees. Golf, tennis, baseball, and cricket clubs are organized and a fine shooting range is on the grounds. these and other forms of service are at the base of that loyalty and efficiency which are the outstanding characteristics of the employees at USMC.”

 

 
 

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Beverly, Massachusetts 01915
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