Anoka County History: The North Star Shoe Factory

While researching an unrelated topic, I was distracted by a newspaper article dated 1901. It described the marvel of a “modern” factory that turned out 700 pairs of shoes per day.

The shoe factory located on Ferry Street in Anoka that would become North Star Shoe Factory, circa 1897. Photo courtesy of ACHS
The shoe factory located on Ferry Street in Anoka that would become North Star Shoe Factory, circa 1897. Photo courtesy of ACHS

Apparently, the factory was founded by a consortium of local businessmen in roughly 1885, which almost immediately disbanded and reorganized. The new owners operated the plant for several years, but at a heavy loss until they also gave up and abandoned it.

Then in 1897 Granville S. Pease proposed that the city of Anoka purchase the empty plant and turn it over to the North Star Shoe Company. In return the company would operate the plant and, “give employment to a stated number of people for a period of five years, at the expiration of which the company would be given the deed to the property.” The agreement was initiated in September 1897 and completed in 1902.

Employees were paid on the piece system, and women were paid substantially less than their male counterparts. An average of 100 workers labored 10 hours a day for six days a week. Girls and women earned from $3-9 per week. Men earned from $1.40 to $2.50 per day (times six days a week equals $8.40-15 per week.) Apparently some of the work could be done at home, “furnishing profitable work at home for boys, girls, and women who would otherwise have been forced to either remain idle or leave home.”

Furthermore, the newspaper boasts that, “In taking idle boys and young men from the streets and converting them into industrious wage earners, the factory has conferred a benefit upon the community that cannot be computed in dollars and cents.”

The article marvels at machinery that today is taken for granted. “By the aid of ingeniously contrived machinery and deft fingers … a shoe can be made every 25 seconds.” It explains that “a pegging machine cuts the pegs, drives them through and cuts off the ends from the inner sole all in one operation, and at a rate of the ticking of a watch.”

In the treeing and packing department (remember shoe trees?) the shoes are packed “into pasteboard boxes, twelve of which are nailed up in a case, 150 such cases making a wagon load which is hauled directly to Minneapolis.” I imagine even the giant city of Minneapolis could not use 700 pairs of shoes daily, so one can assume they were shipped by rail from there to all parts of the country.

Information taken from The Story of a Shoe, in the Anoka Free Press newspaper, August 22, 1901.

Maria King is a volunteer with the Anoka County Historical Society.

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