Background & History

Founded in 1899 by a merger of the supposedly noncompeting Goodyear Machinery Company, Consolidated Hand Lasting Machine Company, and McKay Shoe Machinery Company, United Shoe Machinery Company, as it was then known, revolutionized shoe equipment manufacturing and the shoe industry itself. Its establishment of an international division made it one of the first three international companies ever formed, and it became a worldwide powerhouse as affiliated companies were set up in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, South America, and Asia by 1905. The new company became United Shoe Machinery Corporation on May 1, 1905.

The Beverly factory was begun in 1902 and was operational by 1906. A major factory expansion began in 1911, the same year USM's long complex history with anti-trust legislation began. This stemmed certainly from the extraordinary monopoly USM gained in the shoe machine industry, but also from the Company's practice of leasing equipment and selling customers only the equipment's proprietary parts.

In 1933, FORTUNE Magazine noted that USM's leasing philosophy was "based on the principle that if you can save a man $10 and charge him $2 for the service, it does him no harm if you made a good profit on the $2." The company's monopolistic leasing system assured USM of a steady income, it said, for as long as shoes continued to be made. In addition to its parts sales, USM received royalties during 1932 on about 317 million pairs of shoes. Interestingly, its revenues during that Depression year were reportedly only 15% less than just before the Great Depression, and the region maintained a standard of living like few others in the country at that time.

Although the story of USM is certainly the story of a monopoly, the monopoly's long and fruitful life became a way of life for literally thousands of Beverly area families, many with multi-generational ties to this hugely successful property. Between 1900 and 1910, immigrants quickly swelled Beverly's population from 13,888 to 18,650, or roughly half of its 1998 population.

During 1910 the factory staff grew from 3,000 to 4,500, and the workweek was cut from 55 to 50 hours as the company reportedly paid its workers the highest average wages in the country. The common stock of USM was worth $70 million by year-end, as the company began to achieve greater success in converting more and more hand operations to mechanical processes.

In 1930 USM built one of Boston's first and, at the time, largest skyscrapers for its corporate headquarters and, according to FORTUNE, "was regarded by the most conservative Bostonians as one of the bluest of the blue-chip investments." USM boomed with defense work during World War II, and that continued for a while after the war, as did work in USM's Atomic Power Department. Between 1899 and 1960, USM developed and marketed nearly 800 new and improved shoe machines and patented more than 9,000 inventions in widely disparate areas.

The Beverly plant boasted such modern inventions as the first time-clocks produced by IBM, the hot glue gun, the pop top for the soda can, the drive mechanism for the lunar module, as well as pop rivets used in the Supersonic Concorde. By 1960, however, its inexorable slide from the glory days was underway. In 1968 the name was shortened to USM Corporation to reflect the company's greatly changed emphasis in the post litigation era.

After USM's decades old monopoly was finally broken up, its attempts to diversify in the 1960s brought it deeply into debt for the first time, to finance dozens of acquisitions. As one after another of the new divisions folded, however, the stock value dropped from $56 in 1968, to as low as $18 in 1972.

With USM stock selling at half its supposed book value, FORTUNE, in October 1972, described the firm as a prime takeover target. This of course proved prophetic when Emhart Corporation bought out the once proud firm in 1976. Emhart's new capital infusion reversed the bitter trend of forced retirements for a while, but USM was soon winding down its last decade of manufacturing in Beverly.

Although Beverly had a long history of industrial interests, including the first cotton mill in America, USM's influence dwarfed all other commercial activity in the area. By 1911, according to the old Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics, Beverly residents as a whole had higher annual earnings than the residents of any other city in the state. The company was a model of employer benevolence for decades before it eventually unionized.

In addition to having its own stop on the north/south rail line between Boston and Lowell, USM actually had Boston & Maine Railroad passenger trains that pulled right into the Elliott Street yard every morning and evening. As Massachusetts became more and more industrialized in the early 20th century, USM indirectly supplied the experienced staff who would later gear up many other industries as well.

About 1909 the company initiated its own state chartered industrial school, where generations of future workers and managers were trained. The newly formed Beverly Industrial School was "the first successful school for mechanics in the United States," according to NEW ENGLAND Magazine in 1911. Two groups, each consisting of 35 young men, alternated between the factory and Beverly High School, and before that the adjacent McKay School, spending one week at the factory and then one week at the high school.

USM took good care of its employees. Very early on it established the USM Athletic Association as the umbrella organization through which it reached out to employees, and to some extent the city. By the fall of 1910, the association had more than 1,100 members, which could have included up to 25 percent non-employee "outsiders."

In 1911, various divisions included the gun club, a new baseball division, a motor boating division, a soccer/football coterie, a bowling league, and a cricket team. There was also a band, a chorus, and a vegetable-growing group. Tennis, and the now municipally owned 18-hole golf course, came along just a few years later.

Indeed, employee athletic and recreational opportunities were of prime importance from USM's earliest days in Beverly. Most were centered in a clubhouse (now Beverly Golf and Tennis Club), where special attention seemed to be given to meeting the needs of both male and female workers.

The new clubhouse was turned over to the men, however, "a few hours before the bells of the New Year tolled in 1911," by USM Vice President George W. Brown. "Inside are a theater, an auditorium, a library, locker rooms, bowling alleys and cozy little rooms for the women who may congregate with their sewing or other pleasant diversions so dear to the feminine heart," NEW ENGLAND Magazine reported (emphasis added).

Among 3,000 workers in Beverly by 1911, the company referred to about 100 female office workers and another 70 or 80 girls in the factory, a company brochure proclaims. They all "begin their work ten minutes later than the men and leave ten minutes earlier, so that a proper distance is maintained between the sexes as they enter and leave the factory," the brochure adds.

"While the United Shoe is one of the largest factories in the country," NEW ENGLAND Magazine noted in 1911, "the provisions made for the comfort, safety, health and contentment of its mass of employees, at times upwards of five thousand persons, men and women, are pronounced to be not excelled, and, perhaps, not equaled at any other factory in the world." The factory, in the judgment of factory experts, ranked "foremost among the best type of twentieth century industrial establishments."

Upper and Lower Shoe Ponds

Fed primarily with underground springs, Lower Shoe Pond and Upper Shoe Pond have a combined 19-million-gallon capacity. Recent removal of accumulated brush, junk, and other debris has opened up pastoral views to the tree-lined north and west sides of the ponds. A path with benches runs along the east side of Upper Shoe Pond. A pump hose on the west side of this pond still provides irrigation water for the nearby golf course, an early USM employee amenity.

The property is bordered on the west by a very attractive single family residential district, originally a USM development for managers' homes. (Street names within this subdivision commemorate USM founders.) At the northwest corner of the site is the entrance to the Beverly Golf and Tennis Club, formerly United Shoe Golf and Country Club (and itself listed on the National Register of Historic Places). Just east of the golf course is Beverly's new James L. McKeown Elementary School, on land donated to the city by Cummings Properties.

North of Balch Street, brick single-story multi-family housing, an open field behind Memorial Middle School, and additional single-family homes enclose the site. Bordering the northeast corner of the site, directly across the railroad right of way, is the Balch House property (c.1600, another National Register listing and considered the oldest wood-framed house in the United States), and its surrounding landscape of mature trees.

The site's tidewater location made it a prominent point in Beverly history. The tidal basin, long dammed for industrial use, was the original landing place for Beverly's founding "planters." A bronze plaque set in a projecting boulder at the Upper Shoe Pond's north end commemorates the landing point of these town fathers. The path connecting the landing to the Balch House site (home of John Balch, one of Beverly's original settlers) is further identified by a bronze marker on a cut granite base on the site along Balch Street. The Friends Mill (c.1850) at the southwest corner of the site replaced a much earlier mill and dam (c.1660).

Since its purchase of the property in 1996, Cummings Properties has worked closely with Beverly Historical Society to preserve much of The Shoe's rich history. Throughout the property a wide variety of artifacts is displayed, including refurbished antique USM equipment/machinery, dozens of wall-mounted vintage photo enlargements, an original IBM time clock used at The Shoe in the early 1900s, and several other items donated or loaned by residents of Beverly and the surrounding community. In addition, extensive USM archives and memorabilia are maintained at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

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200 West Cummings Park
Woburn, MA 01801

Beverly 978-922-9000 Woburn 781-935-8000