Title: Shoe Manufacturer
Birthdate: 1828
Death Date: September 1, 1894
Plot Location: Circle of Saint John, Lot 2, Division D, center

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John Mundell and Co. was a shoe manufacturer with a factory at 13th & Cherry Streets in Philadelphia. It was begun by the  son of a shoemaker who was born in Moneymore, County Derry, Ireland.

John left home and arrived penniless in Philadelphia in April 1847. In nearby Ridley Park, he was amazed to meet a man from his hometown in Ireland who apprenticed in the shoe trade with his father. John decided that was to be his mission in life and honed his skills at a shop in the city. He married Agnes Stewart later that year and started his own business the next year. As his reputation was growing, so was their family. A total of ten were born but five didn’t live past childhood. He was able to send for his parents, who arrived a short time later.

The Civil War presented him with an opportunity. John bid for and won government contracts to make shoes for the Army. His business would have otherwise suffered because of the war, but it actually thrived, earning praise for the quality of the product. The name of his company officially became John Mundell and Co. in 1870 with E.F. Partridge as his partner.

In 1878 the company was awarded a patent for what it called “solar tip” shoes.

Below are examples of advertisements for the shoes from 1899. They were sold across the country, featuring a reinforced toe to resist the extra wear and tear children’s shoes receive.

There was even a company baseball team in Philadelphia called the Solar Tips that often took the league championship. Meanwhile, John became well known for his philanthropy, his support of the Republican Party, and as a Scotch-Irish defender of Protestantism. He was a trustee at Old Christ Church at 2nd and Market St.

The factory moved and expanded over the years, employing over 700 workers by the time he had a heart attack in June, 1894 and died three months later. Wife Agnes and son James both died two years later. Eight of their ten children would eventually be buried in the family plot at St. John’s Circle, along with spouses and children.

The estate he left behind was appraised at $271,000, or close to $10 million in today’s money. But he was more well known for what he gave away than what he kept. In addition to the many organizations in which John played an active role, he was on the Board of Managers of Mount Moriah Cemetery.

The cemetery even took out this ad in the paper to describe why they held him in such high regard:

All 700 employees were invited to the funeral, attended by the mayor and former mayor, several judges, the District Attorney, and a state senator

John Mundell Jr. took over the family business, having worked his way to the top from the factory floor. Unfortunately, the business that succeeded because of government contracts was about to fail because of them. The New York Times ran a story on February 3, 1901 that read, “Big Philadelphia Failure,” and other papers in several states printed this Associated Press story.

Whether there was any recovery from this “Assignment” is unknown, but it did little to mar the legacy left by the well known and well loved shoemaker that founded a great enterprise.

Japanese maple tree in front of a monument at Mount Moriah Cemetery

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