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Interpreting the Evidence

Shoemaking, Tanning: Beam Workers

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Era:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    Southern Tier
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Shoemaking, Tanning: Beam Workers, Endicott Johnson Plant, Endicott, 1917 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Beam workers remove fleshings and fine hair by hand from animal hides at the Endicott Johnson Plant in Endicott, New York, 1917.
Historical Context
In 1882, George F. Johnson arrived in Binghamton with eight cents in his pocket. He went to work at the Lester Brothers Boot Factory. George’s hard work and motivation paid off, and by 1899 he had secured a loan to buy a partnership in the company. The company was renamed after its two new owners, and the boot factory became the Endicott Johnson Company.
As a manager, George believed that a contented worker was a productive worker. So he cut back the workday to only eight hours and donated carousels to the town for the children to ride on for free. During the Depression era of the 1920s-1930s, George even provided each schoolchild with a pair of new shoes at Christmas. After George Johnson’s death, the factory closed due to lack of modernization.
Essential Question
How does industrialization change a society?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and evaluate the impact of industrialization on these workers and their working environment.
Historical Challenges
Create a visual timeline about how shoes have evolved. Research how shoes are made today.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: Pretend the Endicott Johnson Factory produced 3,261 shoes in 1908, 3,390 shoes in 1909, 3,176 in 1910, and 3,250 in 1911. Make a graph of the production.
Science: Why is leather a good material for making shoes?
English Language Arts: Create a chart that shows the process of making a shoe. Make an original shoe design and create advertisements for it.