Photo Credits Author:Pat David Licensed under creative commons
The Southern Tier of New York is home to the Triple Cities: a large metropolitan area near the Pennsylvania border comprised of Binghamton, Endicott and Johnson City. This is the birthplace of Endicott-Johnson, a company that at one time was the largest producer of footwear in the U.S. At its peak, Endicott-Johnson operated dozens of factories in the Triple Cities area and beyond. The company’s influence on the development of this region was significant; it employed tens of thousands of residents, provided recreation and community services and even had two of the Triple Cities named in honor of its founders.
Endicott-Johnson used asbestos throughout its manufacturing plants, including its factories in Binghamton, New York. While the dangers of asbestos were known as far back as the 1920s, companies that produced and sold asbestos products did nothing to warn customers of the inherent health risks. These asbestos companies willingly put millions of people in harm’s way, and many workers suffered and died from mesothelioma, asbestosis and other asbestos-related diseases as a result. Because asbestos disease typically takes several decades to manifest, the consequences of asbestos use remained largely unknown until years after many of those afflicted had retired from the jobs where exposure occurred.
Belluck & Fox, LLP, has represented a number of clients who worked at Endicott-Johnson. These clients had a wide variety of jobs, including shoemakers, machine operators and maintenance mechanics. Belluck & Fox, LLP, has records regarding Endicott in its archives, including maps, photographs and documents that show the purchase of asbestos products from a number of companies. As a result, many workers – including former employees of Endicott-Johnson – are being diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Endicott-Johnson’s roots lie in the 1854 founding of a Binghamton-based company known as the Lester Brothers Boot and Shoe Company. The Lester brothers ran the company for the next several decades, but financial trouble led the original founders to sell in 1890. Lester Brothers’ assets were purchased by Massachusetts shoemaker Henry Bradford Endicott, a creditor of the Lester Brothers and a successful businessman in his own right. By 1892, Endicott moved the manufacturing operation into the then-rural area to the west of Binghamton, later known as Johnson City. In 1899, Endicott made the decision to extend an offer of a partnership to factory foreman George F. Johnson, and Endicott-Johnson was formed.
Endicott-Johnson brought shoemaking into the modern era with its innovative factory-production techniques, enabling mass production of footwear on a scale previously unseen. In fact, nearly all footwear used by American troops in both World Wars were produced by Endicott-Johnson at its Triple Cities manufacturing sites. The company was innovative in how it treated its workers. Despite being strongly anti-union, Endicott-Johnson – driven largely by the views of partner George F. Johnson – adhered to what Johnson called his “Square Deal,” paying workers an above-average, livable wage and providing amenities for families who lived in the area surrounding the company.
Despite its successes in the early-to-mid twentieth century, Endicott-Johnson was outmaneuvered in the global market at the turn of the century. Unable to acclimate to changes in business, Endicott-Johnson lost significant ground to competitors such as Nike and other global shoe corporations through the 1980s and ‘90s. It was unable to sustain operations at many of its plants due to declining profits. In 1995, Endicott-Johnson was purchased in the first of a series of acquisitions and sales by various owners, ending in 2004 when the remaining assets of the company were sold wholly to fellow footwear manufacturer, Rocky Brands.
Asbestos Use at Endicott-Johnson
By the middle of the twentieth century, Endicott-Johnson ran more than three-dozen separate operations in the Southern Tier region and beyond, including six tanneries, three rubber mills and nearly 30 specialized factories. With the advent of technologies and production methods, Endicott-Johnson dramatically increased production from that of prior generations. It achieved outputs at each factory far exceeding what was thought possible by previous generations of shoemakers. While this new technology allowed the company to outproduce its competition by an order of magnitude, it brought danger in the form of asbestos. Much of the equipment that allowed factories to run so efficiently used asbestos in some way, which would break down into dust and loose fibers during the course of regular use, maintenance and repair. Over time, this dust filled the air of the plant and was eventually inhaled or ingested by many workers employed at these poorly ventilated factories. Workers need not have worked directly with asbestos to have been injured by it.
While Endicott-Johnson’s first factory was originally planned as a Binghamton location, the company chose instead to move its production site just west of the city. The next several factory locations built by the company were opened outside of Binghamton as well, in the adjacent areas – Endicott and Johnson City. However, in 1923, the company opened its first factory within the Binghamton city limits, owned by EJ known as the old Weed Tannery. Located by the fork in the Susquehanna River at the center of town, this new factory became the main hub of activity for EJ’s Binghamton operations. Just east of Binghamton’s downtown academic block, it was named the Binghamton Busy Boys (BBB) factory and produced EJ’s line of children’s welt shoes.
Another factory on this property was the George F. Johnson factory, known as the old Tabernacle factory. It opened in 1926 and primarily made boy’s and men’s welt shoes. During World War II, the operations were modified to provide footwear for the U.S. armed forces.
Also located within the same complex was the Binghamton Work Shoe Factory. Starting its operations in 1932, this factory mass produced a popular line of nailed work shoes.
The last Binghamton EJ factory opened in 1946, on a separate plot of land to the northeast of the original factory site. The factory was opened in the former site of the Chenango Textile mill to manufacture a new line of shoes for girls and women known as Vogues by Jamesie.
These factories used advances in technology to drastically increase output volume. Shoemaking was considered too complex for machines, and its speed and volume were limited by the need for skilled human hands. In the years leading up to the twentieth century, many technologies brought this era to an end and allowed the shoemaking industry the freedom to expand rapidly.
Machines that contributed to this change include edge and heel trimmers, the Goodyear welt stitcher and – most importantly – the Matzeliger machine, which streamlined shoemaking by automating the process of “lasting,” or attaching the top and bottom of a shoe. Prior to this machine, lasting was considered too complex a procedure to automate. The invention of the Matzeliger machine revolutionized production and reduced the price of shoes by more than half, nearly overnight. Endicott-Johnson produced shoes in volumes of thousands and tens-of-thousands of pairs per day at each factory.
Advances in factory production brought dangers that had seldom been seen prior. Endicott-Johnson’s Binghamton factories shared common dangers due to the increasingly widespread use of asbestos, found throughout the machines and materials until asbestos was regulated in the 1980s. Brakes on machines used asbestos as a friction material. Many segments of the hundreds of feet of pipe that ran through the facility were coated in an insulating layer of asbestos cement. Boilers that provided heat and hot water to the buildings were lined with asbestos refractory and asbestos brick. Turbines that turned this steam into energy were made using asbestos, along with many other electrical components. Pumps that moved this water and steam through the factory’s pipes used asbestos gaskets and packing to create seals, and valves that controlled the flow of these fluids were often made using asbestos. Asbestos could even be found in building materials; it was a common material for use as drywall, insulation, tiles and shingles.
Whenever asbestos equipment needed to be repaired, maintained or replaced, asbestos dust was likely to result from the process. Gaskets needed to be scraped off pumps and pipes, insulation was wire brushed and then replaced by hand and packing needed to be removed with sharp hooks. Often, regular use of these products released fibers into the air, such as brakes, which break down into dust due to regular exposure to heat and friction. Construction projects were especially dangerous; these created a great deal of dust and agitated existing dust, making it airborne. Employees, including employees of contractors, were all at great risk in a work environment such as this. The poorly ventilated conditions typical in factories of this time only made worse the already-significant dangers of working around asbestos.
Because employees weren’t informed of the dangers, none knew of the safety measures they needed to take to protect themselves from asbestos. Workers bore the full brunt of asbestos exposure, often handling the substance with bare hands as a powder or slurry. Many times, workers carried asbestos dust that settled on clothing, hair and skin home to their families in what is known as take-home exposure. Many people who developed mesothelioma never worked around asbestos.
Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma. While it can take decades to develop, mesothelioma often manifests due to exposures at the workplace, exposures that typically occurred prior to laws regulating asbestos that were passed the 1980s. Many people, including former Endicott-Johnson employees, are well into their retirement before they discover they were injured by asbestos during the course of their career. However, despite this long period of latency, the companies that sold the asbestos products to Endicott-Johnson and other businesses are accountable for the damage.
Belluck & Fox Helps Mesothelioma Patients
Mesothelioma is an asbestos-caused disease. Although asbestos was a known toxic material, asbestos was used in products sold without warnings or safety instructions. This means that former Endicott Johnson employees who have developed mesothelioma or other asbestos diseases have the right to seek compensation. Settlements obtained can pay for treatment of the disease and protect families from financial hardship. Act quickly after being diagnosed with an asbestos disease because the law limits the time to bring a claim.
Mesothelioma victims need to hire attorneys familiar with asbestos cases; lawyers who have successfully taken on the asbestos manufacturers and know the ways in which people were exposed. The attorneys at Belluck & Fox have won over $500 million from corporations that sold asbestos products to consumers and industry and have represented victims who were exposed to asbestos while working at Endicott-Johnson, including shoemakers, machine operators and maintenance mechanics. They know the factories and already have documents and research regarding the use of asbestos at the company’s factories.
The asbestos attorneys at Belluck & Fox make every effort to address clients’ specific needs. They know the strain that battling mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases can place on your life, so experienced mesothelioma lawyers can make accommodations to meet with you in your home and will handle all the work on your case, rather than referring you to another law firm. There is no financial risk in retaining our services; we only receive payment if we recover money for you and your family. Our offices can be reached at 1-877-637-6843 or through our online contact form.
Life and Labor in a Corporate Community: An On-Line History of the Endicott Johnson Corporation
Accessed on December 12, 2012.
Bygone Binghamton: Remembering People and Places of the Past Volume One
Accessed on December 14, 2012
Accessed on December 12, 2012
Wikipedia – Endicott Johnson
Accessed December 12, 2012