Jan Earnst Matzeliger

A Lasting Invention

Much has been written about inventor Jan Earnst Matzeliger, but in the first official biography Peggy explores his personal life, unveiling a nuanced story of who he was as a human being.

Born in slavery in Suriname, Matzeliger relocated to North America at the age of fifteen. His journey took him to Lynn, Massachusetts. While experiencing many trials in both his personal and professional life, he invented the automated shoe lasting machine.

Sadly, he never witnessed the success of his invention, which only came into fruition decades after he gained the patent. Jan Matzeliger passed away at the age of thirty-seven after a two-year battle with tuberculosis.

Thus far, the narrative of Matzeliger has been told by white contemporaries. In looking more critically at these sources, Peggy concluded that one of these contemporaries was in fact his biological son.

His African-European heritage, and the connection to his wealthy, slave-owning family determined his views regarding these topics, but also influenced how he dealt with America’s race relations.