There are literally thousands of tales around the history of the Endicott Johnson Shoe Co.
This is not unexpected, given that the company employed 20,000 workers, made over 50 million pairs of shoes each year and revolutionized the way we thought of the worker-management system in the United States.
So many stories, so many people involved in a company that forever shaped this community.
In any large corporation, there are good and bad things — things that could be better. This was also certainly true with Endicott Johnson, as it was with the Ford Motor Co., U.S. Steel or any of the other mega-industries that existed in the first half of the 20th century.
While the problems deserve discussion, so do some of the more interesting methods of operation that speak to efficiency and reuse of materials.
In this instance, I am referring to rubber. It was an essential product used in the manufacture of shoes — especially athletic shoes. While the Endicott Johnson company purchased crude rubber to be used for soles and other parts of the shoes, under George F. Johnson’s leadership, EJ became one of the nation’s leaders in recycling or reuse of rubber.
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In 1922, Endicott Johnson completed the construction of the rubber reclamation plant near the CFJ Park in Johnson City. It was not one of the largest factories in the shoe process, employing only about 50 men. Yet, its importance was essential to much of the manufacturing process.
Used tires would be shipped via the railroads from across New York and Pennsylvania. A small mountain of tires occupied the yard of the plant, and on an annual basis, they used 1 million pounds of these tires to be reclaimed.
That reclamation process involved de-rimming the tires, weighing them and sending them on conveyor belts to be cut into small pieces. Those pieces would be ground into pieces and eventually sent to the nearby Paracord factory to be mixed with crude rubber to make a stronger product for shoes and other byproducts.
It was an interesting way of reusing leftover products that smacks of today’s recycling efforts to reuse and reclaim for a better climate. While that is a good story, it is the byproducts that are even more interesting.
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George F. Johnson and his brothers were all avid golfers. It was that interest that led to the creation of the En-Joie Golf Course, where the mostly level 18 holes could be played without tiring out employees.
That interest in golf and the reuse of pieces of rubber led to the production of golf balls made by Endicott Johnson using some of that reclaimed rubber for the hard cores of the balls. Sold under names like Brentwood and Gladiator, the package for the balls mentions the Paracord Co.
That subdivision brought sizable profits from the leftovers in the reclaiming process. I am not sure how profitable the golf ball sales were for EJ, as it appears that the manufacture lasted only a few years. Nonetheless, it was one way of using some of those old tires in an interesting way. It was, however, not the only use of older rubber in a new purpose.
For those who are unaware, Sarah Jane Johnson Memorial United Methodist Church in Johnson City was donated by George F. Johnson and the Johnson family in memory of his mother. The Johnsons were Methodists and thought a grand church would be appropriate.
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Designs were drawn for both a church and a social hall. Construction of the social hall began in 1924, and was competed in 1925. The church was completed in 1927.
While the church is beautiful, it is the floor of the gym in the social hall that is unique. It is not wood — it is reclaimed rubber done in brick fashion by Endicott Johnson. After nearly 100 years, the floor remains intact — something to be said for the efficiency of the EJ reclaiming process, and the generosity of George F. Johnson.
Now I should go and practice trying to dribble a basketball on a rubber floor. I’m not sure it would be any better than me trying to hit an EJ golf ball.
Gerald Smith is a former Broome County historian. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.