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MEN OF THE MONTH

[[image: drawing of bust of a man wearing a toga with laurel wreath crown]]

AN INVENTOR.

IF you have any occasion to peruse the "Help Wanted" columns of the daily newspapers——and you will find this an instructive and entertaining and perhaps otherwise profitable occupation for a spare half hour——you may come across a demand for "nigger-head lasters, at good wages."  If you are not versed in the vernacular of shoemaking, you may think that this phrase was specially devised to humiliate and ridicule the Negro race.  But in this case your presumption would be found to be incorrect, for the "head" referred to in this compound name is not the outward and visible, but the inward and spiritual and intellectual head of a black man.

  He was not really black; in fact, twenty years after his death the Beverly (Mass.) Times went so far as to declare:  "It is known that he had no Negro blood in his veins whatever."  But the doctors and the civil registrar of Lynn, Mass., did not know this, for in his death certificate they set opposite to color the abbreviation M., there being no space for the ulatto.  And the contemporary newspaper reports of his untimely death, and of the life of misery and poverty that led to it, all describe him as a Negro, meaning a man of Negro blood, and enough of it to be recognized.  Nor did his fellow workmen ever know that Matzeliger was a white man, for they called him "The Dutch Nigger," and when the invention of this man's brain revolutionized the manufacture of boots and shoes they said the machine which they expected would put them out of their jobs was a "nigger-head laster," q. v., if you can find it in the dictionary.

  Jan Ernst Matzeliger is said to have been the son of a Dutch engineer, but as his mother was a colored woman of Dutch Guiana, Matzeliger, were he now living, would have to allow himself to be called "black" by the boys  who fill out and correct applications for American citizenship at the naturalization bureau in New York.  Why the shoemaking newspapers should be so anxious to use the euphemism "native" in speaking of a Negroid woman of Surinam and to "marry" her to a white man at a time when slavery was in its palmiest days, while in New Amsterdam or Albany the same woman would be a "Negress," is not far to seek.  The son of this woman did something that the son of no Negro woman is supposed to be capable of doing, and, even if he does make himself responsible for the prosperity of the boot and shoe towns of Massachusetts, it is hardly to be expected that they would be willing to credit him with it, and at the same time call him a Negro, as they would if he were an unwelcome applicant for a job operating his own machine.

  The Dutch engineer may or may not have "married" a "native" or non-white woman of Paramaribo, but, at any rate, the man whose death certificate calls him a mulatto and leaves blank the spaces for the names of his father and mother was born in the capital of Dutch Guiana in September, 1852.  The chances are that he had no parents or relatives to speak of and that he "jes' growed" as many a congener of his in this country.  He went to school in a machine shop and, in his late teens, made his way to Philadelphia.  In this city he remained until 1878, when he went to Lynn, Mass.  Here, in August 1889, he died of tuberculosis, leaving to others the fruit of his labor.

  Matzeliger had spent over six years in creating the machine which has made a vast fortune for the president of the United

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MEN OF THE MONTH

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[[image:  JAN ERNST MATZELIGER.]]

Shoe Machinery Company.  With bits of wood, old cigar boxes, scraps of tin and brass picked up on the street, he designed three models, each an improvement on the preceding one.  He was engaged on a fourth improvement at the time of his death, when the invention was taken over and controlled by the above-mentioned corporation.

  Matzeliger's machine surpasses the ingenuity of the most skilled workman in lasting shoes.  While the most expert hand laster could not exceed an output of sixty pairs a day, the machine in the hands of a capable operator has turned out as many as 700 pairs in ten hours.  "This machine," according to one of the trade journals, "has improved the product, decreased cost and decreased hours of labor, and has multiplied production."  It has thus been a blessing in disguise for the workman and an undisguised blessing for the consumer.

  The light of Matzeliger's life had lain beneath a bushel of obscurity until last August, when an article in Munsey's Magazine described him as a Negro.  Mr. Henry E. Baker, an assistant examiner at the Patent Office in Washington, who is making a private record of the inventions by men of his race——the Patent Office recognizes nationality only——took up the matter and secured the data which have furnished the basis of this sketch.  The colored Hollander left his interest in the manufacture of his machine to the North Congregational Church in Lynn.  In 1904 the church received $10,860 from the sale of the remaining stock, and with this money paid off a mortgage which had been standing over thirty years.  Amid great rejoicing and loud songs of praise the deed of mortgage was burned and a portrait of Matzeliger exhibited in the church.  We wrote the clergyman in charge, asking him to send us, if possible, a reproduction of this portrait for our Men of the Month.  We have received no reply.  We secured from a newspaperman in Lynn the picture reproduced herewith.

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A CIVIC LEADER.

A LIFE which began with a brighter outlook and richer opportunity, and consequently was productive of larger and more lasting benefits to his race than that of Matzeliger, came to a close with the death of Dr. John R. Francis.

[[image: THE LATE DR. FRANCIS.]] 
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