The Rubber Heal

January 24th Celebrates The Rubber Heal

Today on Days to Remember we celebrate how on January 24th 1899, Humphrey O’ Sullivan patented the rubber heal.

Where would be without the rubber heal?

Legend has it that the invention of the rubber heel occurred in that Lowell, Mass. print shop.

The story, as documented in a typewritten page dated 1926 (source unknown), is that, in 1896, Humphrey O’Sullivan was a young printer in Lowell, Massachusetts.

He walked on a stone floor while feeding a printing press, and to ease his footsteps, he bought a rubber mat on which to stand. His fellow employees kept “borrowing” the mat, so Humphrey cut out two pieces of the mat the size of his heels and nailed them to his shoes.

The results pleased and astonished him. Soon, O’Sullivan was making full-fledged rubber heels, equipped with hidden washers to hold the nails, and going around peddling them among the shoemakers of Lowell.

They were the first rubber heels ever made, and he eventually patented the idea. In a few years, O’Sullivan Heels were being shipped to all parts of the country.

How that for some elevating good news, but wait there’s more.

After developing what was to become known as “America’s No. 1 Heel”, O’Sullivan arranged for his products to be manufactured by the Boston Belting Company.

After several years, he switched to the Goodrich Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio, and the O’Sullivan Rubber Company continued with this arrangement for many years.

With production now in capable hands, Humphrey concentrated on selling and advertising his products. The business was eventually sold, and was moved to Winchester, Virginia in 1932, and O’Sullivan Rubber began making rubber heels instead of having them manufactured by another company.

Business boomed during WWII, but like many companies, they had trouble adjusting to the post-war era, and sales dropped considerably. To increase sales, in the late 1940’s O’Sullivan installed its first vinyl sheeting plant, and for the first time became a publicly owned company.

The growth of vinyl took the company in a new direction, and O’Sullivan began shipping their products to customers who made ladies’ handbags and furniture upholstery.

What can say but Humphrey O’Sullivan instead of having passion for the foot, made his way through history because it was in his sole destination, another foot pun to this extraordinary fellow?

Written & Designed by JD Mitchell


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