International Shoe Company

Women at work at the International Shoe Co., sometime between 1915 and 1917 (Courtesy Monica Reid Spence; her grandmother, Elizabeth Ann Wood Reid, is the third woman in the middle row)

Springfield had a major shoe factory at Tenth Street and Enos Avenue from 1903 to 1964. The plant, built in the late 19th century, originally was the Springfield Furniture Co., but became a shoe factory when it was taken over  by the Desnoyer Brothers Shoe Company. When Desnoyers went into receivership in 1910, the facility was taken over by the newly formed International Shoe Company.

Most shoe workers were women.  However, conditions for workers in Springfield’s International Shoe facility were called a “disgrace” by an Illinois Senate Vice Commission in 1913.

A portion of the former shoe factory complex, 2013 (SCHS)

One 21-year-old woman told the commission that girls in the box department “were driven at top speed, and that the foreman cursed them when they failed to turn out as much work as he desired,” the New York Times reported. “On a half dozen different occasions, she testified, she fainted from excessive exertion. She said the foreman of the department sometimes seized girls and shook them when they displeased him.”

In 1914, the Boot and Shoe Recorder found it newsworthy that International Shoe had installed a restroom for its women workers in Springfield. Plant employees later were represented by the Boot and Shoe Workers union.

A fire on Christmas Eve 2022 destroyed part of the old factory. (SCHS)

The shoe factory reached peak employment, 650 people, in 1930, when the plant was producing 4,500 pairs of shoes a day.

schs-logo-2Employment fell to 300 by the 1960s, and the factory closed in 1964. Goodwill Industries bought the factory complex, but the last Goodwill facility there, an outlet store, closed in 2013.

The south side of the old shoe factory complex was destroyed by a fire, probably caused by homeless squatters, on Christmas Eve 2022.

Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society. Learn how to support the Society. 

This entry was posted in Buildings, Business, Industry, Social services, Women and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to International Shoe Company

  1. frank weitzel says:

    I have a picture of my gr grandmother , in a group pictures when it was desnoyers.

    • Kendra McCarthy says:

      My Great Grandmother was working there in 1910. Do you know what year your photo is from & are any names on back. Her name was Jennie Fox.

      Any way You could email the photo to me. Thank you for any reply.

  2. Anna Lael says:

    I worked there around 53&54.I remember working on piece work .had to do so many per hour. Really don’t remember the formans being that bad.

  3. Joe Lombardo says:

    My father worked there until around 1956 when we moved to New York. He did piecework sewing top soles to the shoes, and if he busted his butt, could make $35/week-and because of my health needs he had to bust his butt as often as the work allowed.

    Never underestimate the drive of an immigrant with a dream. We moved to New York and he realized his dream of owning his own business which was wildly successful.

  4. Mona Reid says:

    I have a picture of my grandmother working in the factory in or around 1915. I can see her very clearly at one of the work tables. She is looking at the camera.

  5. Jane Marie Staley says:

    My mom worked there after having graduated from Sacred Heart, 1939. She was the payroll clerk.

  6. David Beams says:

    I have been working on a collection of stories about growing up in Springfield in the 1950s and 1960s, and that includes some background on my maternal grandparents, Henry A. Timm and Ida Mae (Morris) Timm. I knew that Grandpa Timm worked at International Shoe Company at some point in his life, and my family and I drove past the building innumerable times when I was a kid on our way to his house on North 14th St. But I just looked at a 1920 census record that includes my grandmother’s family, and she appears as their 18-year-old daughter whose occupation is “worker in shoe factory.” Apparently both of my maternal grandparents worked there, which makes me wonder if they met at work. (It would help if I knew when Grandpa Timm worked there, but I don’t).

    International Shoe Company produced women’s shoes that had rather clunky wooden heels, maybe 2 or 3 inches high. Grandpa Timm used to take two such heels and glue them together back-to-back at the small ends. He would then add some axles and wheels and a tongue and a buckboard to make a little replica of a Conestoga wagon. I remember that there were many of those wooden heels in his basement workshop after he passed away in 1961. So many Conestoga wagons he never got around to making!!

    The photo of women working at International Shoe circa 1915 would be apropos to the story of Mom’s family, and I would like to include it. But before I do so, I just want to be sure that “original content” as mentioned in the copyright notice includes photographs from credited individuals.

    • editor says:

      Mr. Beams: The photo that leads off this entry is the property of Monica Reid Spence; she owns that copyright. I’ll ask her to contact you regarding permission to republish the photo. (My uncle used to bring my family some of those heels, and as kids we played with them too. But we never did anything as creative as make Conestoga wagons from them. Thanks for the memory.)

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