The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #73581   Message #2240365
Posted By: mark gregory
19-Jan-08 - 10:57 PM
Thread Name: Origins: When/where did 'Peg and Awl' turn up?
Subject: Origins: Peg and Awl
I've always liked the song Peg and Awl but only recently looked to find the story of mechanisation it tells

the song begins

"In the year of eighteen and one
Peg and awl
In the year of eighteen and one
Peg and awl
In the year of eighteen and one
Peggin' shoes was all I done
Hand me down my peg, my peg and awl"

By the third verse the song gets to the invention of a new machine that does away with the hand pegging of shoes with:

"They invented a new machine
Peg and awl
They invented a new machine
Peg and awl
They invented a new machine
Prettiest thing I ever seen
Throw away my peg, my peg and awl"

It seems to me that the dates in the song don't accurately document the history of shoe making.

Up to 1845 shoes were made with hand tools, the curved awl, the chisel-like knife and the scraper, the pincers, the lapstone, the hammer and a variety of rubbing sticks used for finishing edges and heels.

In 1845 the first machine used in the industry was the rolling machine for compacting the leather and replacing the lapstone and hammer previously used for pounding sole leather.

In 1846 Elias Howe invented the sewing machine.

In 1858, Lyman Reed Blake, a shoemaker, invented a machine for sewing the soles of shoes to the uppers. His patents were purchased by Gordon McKay, who improved upon Blake's invention.

Perhaps the song refers to the the "Lasting Machine" invented by the Black shoe maker Jan Matzeliger while working at McKay's. In March 1883, the United States Patent Office issued him a patent. Within two years, Matzeliger had perfected the machine so that it could produce up to 700 pairs of shoes each day (as compared to 50 per day by hand).

A 1920 advertisement for shoe manufacturer W.L.Douglas shows him as a seven and eleven year old child hand pegging shoes, and wheeling leather in a barrow. This backs up an 1850s argument best as William Lewis Douglas was born in 1845 and apprenticed to a shoemaker when he was seven, pegging shoes in 1852.

The song rhymes the same if we start it in the in 1851 or 1881! Since Matzeliger's invention is the one that best fits the line "Pegs a hundred pair to my one" maybe we should sing "In the year eighteen eighty one" and work up from there.

It's a great example of an "industrial song" and perhaps one of the few that rejoice in a new labour saving machine.