Thomas G. Plant Shoe Factory and Queen Quality Shoes
A big change in the women’s shoe retail trade of Boston takes place Oct 1 – the agency of the famous Queen Quality Shoes will be controlled by C. F. Hovey & Co., 33 Summer St.
This concern took up the Queen Quality Agency, which necessitated the enlargement of the shoe department, only after making an exhaustive study of the Thomas G. Plant Company factory at Jamaica Plain.
The investigators found at the same time – a fact little known to Bostonians – that the city harbors in the plant of the Thomas G. Plant Company, the largest exclusively women’s shoe factory in the world, employing 5200 people, with a value of its business approximately $8,000,000 yearly and with an output of better than 3,000,000 pairs yearly.
It was the privilege of the Globe representative to go through the big factory a few days ago with a party guided by Vice President F.R. Maxwell, the Sales Manager of the company, and the trip proved a revelation to one unaccustomed to the perfection of a manufacturing system such as that at the Jamaica Plain plant. The tour of inspection began at the roof.
The roof of the factory is one huge roof garden and playground, one-half for the use of the women. From this roof can be obtained a magnificent view of Boston and the surrounding territory, and it overlooks the beautiful park alongside the factory, which is used for a recreation ground for the employees.
On the top or sixth floor, where the north light – the clearest light possible - gleamed through the skylights, were groups of men who have been handling leather for the company for 15 or 20 years. Close by the skins were measured by a wonderful machine which in a second gives the exact surface measure of any skin, no matter how irregular its shape.
Vici kid was going through. It was learned that every women, who buys a pair of Vici kid shoes "gets somebody’s goat," literally, for it takes an entire skin of one animal to make a pair of shoes. As there are 13,000 shoes on an average put out by the factory each day, it will be seen that somewhere an immense number of animals are being slaughtered for the Queen Quality wearers.
In the cutting and stitching rooms were hundreds of women and men to cut and assemble the different parts of the shoes. Endless belts did the errands that would require hundreds of boys. There was everywhere an insistent obligation of cleanliness. There was everywhere the very latest idea in improved machinery. One machine for shaping the shoes was just being tried out for the first time.
Piece-by-piece the shoes took form and went forward to completion until, on the first floor, they were seen going into big paper board cartons, which now take the place of the heavy wooden boxes on all small orders, thereby saving the customer express and freight charges.
In the engine room, the big dynamos whirred away supplying the big plant with man-saving power.
Particularly interesting were the style rooms where the latest guesses as to what people will want next season were being worked out. It was interesting to note the boom in fancy shoes that has come since the short skirts came into vogue. Madame, who formerly got along with cheap, out-of-repair footwear, now demands the best, the books of the style-maker show.
To leave the story of the world’s biggest women’s shoe factory without mention of one of its greatest features would be wrong - the feature of cooperation between the company and its employees.
"When we built this factory," said Mr. Ratcliffe, President of the company, "we had in mind ideal conditions under which labor could be made more pleasant and effective, and as we planned, so we built."
There is a library, part of the Recreation Department, where employees are given unrestricted use of some 2,000 books. There are rest rooms for those who are ill, with a skilled physician and nurses in attendance. There is a dance hall with a piano and mechanical piano player, and this hall is open two nights a week besides all through the working day, to be used by girls who have a few minutes of leisure on their hands. There is a billiard room for the men with several bowling alleys attached, and a barbershop. There is a lunchroom which sometimes feeds 1,000 at a meal, and there are dining rooms for private parties and for the Officers of the company besides. The best of wholesome food is sold at cost prices.
"Summing up all you have seen and heard, gentlemen," said Vice President Maxwell, "you may understand why it is that we distribute eight million dollars’ worth of shoes entirely through retail trade.
"The merchandise produced under the conditions which you have seen cannot help but be good as it is possible to make it at the prices asked. The personnel of the firm as well as the whole body of employees enter into their manufacture, because they are all interested and happy in their work."
This article originally appeared in the Boston Globe, October 1, 1913. The Jamaica Plain Historical Society is extremely grateful to Peter O’Brien for his assistance in transcribing this article.