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shoe pegs

A small, pointed piece of wood, used in fastening. — Webster, 1882

noteWhen Almanzo Wilder received his first pair of boots in 1866, the cobbler attached the soles to the uppers, and the heels to the soles, with pegs – pegs that the cobbler had made out of fine grained maple, by hand.

Shoe-pegs had been invented about fifty years earlier, by Joseph Walker of Massachusetts. Prior to that time, all parts of the boot were sewn by hand, but pegging proved to be such a time saver that they were soon widely-adopted. To save even more time (the earliest pegs were made by hand from long slivers of wood), machinery was developed to produce shoe-pegs quickly and efficiently, and other machinery with which to insert pegs into the leather. There were over two dozen factories in New England alone that produced shoe-pegs by the thousands, but apparently the Wilders’ cobbler still made own. He doesn’t even use a shoe-peg plane, which, with two passes made at right angles, would score the maple into a mass of pointed pegs just waiting to be separated with a chisel.

Here’s what was written about shoe-pegs in 1877:

Shoe-pegs are made by machinery. The bark is peeled off the log, which is then sawed into slices across the grain, a little thicker than the length of a peg. The face of each block which is intended for the heads of the pegs is planed smooth.

The block is grooved by a machine in which a V-shaped cutting tool reciprocates rapidly across the face of the block, which is advanced the thickness of a peg between each stroke of the cutter, by feed-rollers. After the block has been grooved one way, it is again grooved at right angles to the first grooves, the surfaces of the block on one side now presenting a regular succession of quadrangular pyramids, which are the points of the yet embryo pegs.

The splitting is done on machines by a vertically reciprocating knife, which drives into each groove in turn, as the block is fed beneath it, the object being not to split the pegs entirely apart, but to have them hang together at the heads. The blocks are fed to the splitting-knives by fluted rollers, the flutes of which fit the grooves in the blocks made by the grooving-machine. When the block has passed through the splitting-machine once, it is turned and fed through again at right angles to the direction in which it was first fed, and after this operation the pegs are nearly split apart, but they still hang together somewhat like a bunch of split lucifer matches. After the second feeding, knotty and faulty parts are removed, and the block is forcibly thrown off the table of the splitting-machine on to the floor, and the pegs fall asunder. The pegs are then dried in a tumbler heated by steam-pipes, bleached with sulphur fumes till they assume a uniform white color, run through a fanning-mill to free them from dust, and finally packed for market.

The largest factory of shoe-pegs in this country is at Burlington, Vermont, where one factory transforms every day four cords of wood into four hundred bushels of shoe-pegs.

Who was the jolly, fat cobbler who arrived at the Wilders’ house too late to make new shoes for Royal, Eliza Jane, and Alice to wear to Franklin Academy? Unfortunately, Laura Ingalls Wilder doesn’t tell us his name. According to the 1860 census, there were 27 shoe-makers (none of them were called cobblers) living in Malone at the time of the 1860 census. This may sound like a large number, but there were over six thousand people living in Malone Township at the time.


shoe pegs (FB 23)