In the early 1900s, most shoes in this country were manufactured by just one company: The Endicott Johnson Corporation in the Triple Cities region of upstate New York.
It was the largest shoe factory in the world. It churned out 52 million pairs of shoes a year and supplied boots to the U.S. Army in both world wars.
But Endicott Johnson wasn’t only famous for its shoes. It was also famous for having some the best wages and working conditions in the U.S.
The president of the company, George F. Johnson, was the first in the shoe business to introduce an 8-hour work day. He built libraries, parks, even hospitals, and offered his workers free medical care.
Some people called it welfare capitalism. Johnson had a different name for it.
“The Square Deal” was co-produced by Joe Richman and Samara Freemark of Radio Diaries and Homelands’ Jonathan Miller. The piece aired on NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010, then in 2015 on the Radiotopia podcast, and then again in 2015 on NPR’s Planet Money podcast. The audio here is from Radiotopia, with an introduction and afterword by Joe Richman.