What can you learn from a pair of shoes?
Two Guthrie women, including this young lady, brought in a pair of men’s shoes. She was curious about them and asked if we could look into it. Of course we can, and thrilled to do so!
We started digging around trying to figure out the time frame for which the shoes fit and where they may have come from. Following the “Emerson” on the tag led us to the manufacturer R. B. Grover Shoe Factory based in Brockton, MA.
There were several shoe factories in Brockton. The article I found said that over 35,000 people were employed in Brockton in the shoe industry. The main building was finished in 1891 but with the success of the Emerson shoe line for “professional men” a fourth floor was added to the factory.
An ad we found (see the link above) lists the most expensive pair at $5.00. Today that would be about $150.00 today. Emerson’s were a good quality shoe. From the bit of research we’ve done they look to have most popular in the North Eastern US. New York and Philadelphia. Which would make sense, selling their shoes to the urban professional workers. So if you lived in Oklahoma Territory and were able to buy a pair of these shoes you would be “well off”.
But the story doesn’t end there. When the top floor of the factory was added, a new boiler had to be installed. The boiler systems didn’t just provided heat to the building and the workers. The steam boiler was the energy power center of the factory. The steam engine and pipes would power gears and pulleys that operated the machinery within the factory.
On the morning of March 20, 1905 the new steam boiler was taken off line for standard maintenance. This meant the old boiler system was running the building while the early morning shift was arriving for work. Newspapers of the time say people started complaining about loud and strange noises coming for a section of steam pipes along one wall. Before the engineer could get back from his breakfast, the pressure built up and the boiler exploded, leveling the building.
An entire city block was destroyed in the explosion, 58 people were killed and over 150 more were injured. The disaster was so terrible that many of the victims could not be identified and are memorialized together in Brockton today.
The boiler exploded with such a force that it launched from the basement through all four floors of the building, damaging important supports. The boiler flew up and over the next block and landed in the house belonging to Mrs. Pratt. She suffered only minor injuries. That white line I mentioned in the image before, illustrates the path of the boiler.
According to some brief mentions about the company, the company had been around for decades, they supposedly supplied shoes and boots for US Army Soldiers during the Civil War. Unfortunately, the explosion and the aftermath bankrupted the company. All of it’s assets were sold off to it’s creditors.
Industrial accidents of this sort were unfortunately commonplace. Disasters like this are why Health & Safety, Worker’s Compensation, and Inspection laws were first proposed to regulate industries in hopes of preventing further tragedies. Massachusetts passed “An Act Relating to the Operation and Inspection of Steam Boilers” in 1907.
A simple pair of shoes can teach us so much about our history and you never know what you are going to uncover.