Jones, Charles H., Jr.
Archive of the Correspondence of Charles H. Jones, Jr. and his fiancé, (later wife), Margaret M. French, as well letters of his father Charles H. Jones, founder of the Commonwealth Shoe & Leather Co., of Whitman, Massachusetts, and Maine, 1925-1951

Archive of 316 letters, comprising 1,311 pp., with 28 pieces of ephemera, (including calling cards, used envelopes, and postcards), all dated between 1925 and 1951, with the bulk of material being 1925 to 1938. Of the 316 letters, 112 of them (545 pp.) were written by Margaret M. "Peg" French to her fiancé, and later husband Charles H. "Peter" Jones, Jr., and are dated 1925-1927. Charles writes 146 (598 pp.) of these 316 letters to his fiancée, later wife, Margaret. The remaining 58 letters (168 pp.) are by various correspondents and include Charles H. "Pete" Jones, Jr. writing letters to his mother-in-law Mrs. Henry C. French (6) and to his son Charles H. "Willie" Jones, III (2). Also in these remaining letters are 14 letters written by Margaret to her son Charles, and 17 letters written by Charles H. Jones, Sr. to his daughter-in-law Margaret and 3 letters to his grandson Charles H. "Willie" Jones, III. There are also 3 letters written by Leslie F. "Mym" Jones (the daughter of Charles H. "Pete" Jones, Jr.) to her brother Charles H. "Willie" Jones, III, and 13 miscellaneous letters that include 9 letters to Margaret, 1 letter to Charles H. "Pete" Jones, Jr., and 3 letters to Peg and Pete's daughter, Leslie F. "Mym" Jones. These miscellaneous letters are written by family and friends. The letters consist mainly of family and personal correspondence.

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Charles H. Jones Family History: Founding and Development of Commonwealth Shoe & Leather Co.

              The Commonwealth Shoe & Leather Co. was a successor to a few of Whitman, Massachusetts’ early shoe factories. Among its predecessors were the Marcus S. Reed Factory, begun ca. 1865 in South Abington (later called Whitman). The Reed factory operated on another site as a small boot and shoe factory under various names. Another predecessor to Commonwealth Shoe was the Henry and Daniels factory, itself a successor to earlier South Abington shoe companies, and the previous owner of the earliest extant shoe factory building on the present Commonwealth Shoe and Leather site (ca. 1864). After Commonwealth Shoe & Leather Co. acquired the west side of the present Marble Street complex, it became a Whitman landmark, and the sprawling complex eventually occupied property on both the east and west sides of Marble Street.


             Founded and incorporated in 1884, Commonwealth Shoe & Leather Co. succeeded the Charles H. Jones Co., formed in 1882. Charles H. Jones (1855-1933) was a capitalist and philanthropist, who amassed a fortune engaging in many fields of business and industry including leather and shoe manufacturing, cattle breeding, dairy farming, and real estate development. Jones became president of Commonwealth Shoe & Leather Co., a position he held until 1930. For most of its existence, Commonwealth Shoe was a family enterprise, run by three generations of the Jones family--Charles H. Jones, his sons Paul Jones and Charles H. "Pete" Jones Jr., and grandsons Paul Jones Jr. and Charles Jones III. The archive offered here centers around the correspondence of Charles H. "Pete" Jones, Jr. and his fiancée, later wife, Margaret Massy "Peg" French.

              Charles H. Jones, was the son of Harriet Sears and Isaac Jones, and descended from a family of Quakers, who had established themselves in Chatham on Cape Cod. Charles Henry Jones, was born in 1855 in Marshfield, Massachusetts, attended Boston public schools, and in 1872 graduated from Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire. After graduation, the seventeen-year-old Jones went to work for the wholesale shoe firm Henry and Daniels as a travelling representative.

               In 1882 Charles H. Jones married Bessie Roberts (1861-1948) of Boston, and they had four children Paul Jones (1884-?), Elizabeth Jones (1900-1990), who married Frank J. McSherry, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; Charles Henry "Pete" Jones, Jr. (1902-1999), and Harriet M. Jones (1904-1997), who married James Sinclair, of Weston, Massachusetts.

               Paul Jones, Charles H. "Pete" Jones, Jr.'s brother, was born on 7 Aug 1884, at Whitman, Plymouth, Massachusetts. He was raised at Weston and Middlesex, graduated college, and moved back to Whitman by 1930, when he took over the company after his father (Charles H. Jones) retired. Sometime after 1935, he moved to Milton, Massachusetts, where he was still living in 1942. He married Edna Harrison, had at least two children, Paul Jones, Jr. (1921-2004) and Ruth. There are no letters in this collection for Charles's brother Paul and his family.

               Charles H. "Pete" Jones, Jr. was born on 29 March 1902 at Brookline, Massachusetts. He was raised in Weston. In December of 1927 he married Margaret "Peg" Massy French at West Falmouth. After marriage he lived at Weymouth (1930), later West Falmouth (1935) and died at West Falmouth Village, Massachusetts, on 10 March 1999. He and his wife had at least two children, Charles Henry "Willie" Jones, III (1929-2008) and Leslie French "Mym" Jones (1932-2006), who married Michael Jackson (1932-2013). There are several letters in this collection written by Leslie to her brother "Willie," as well as letters written to both of them by members of the family (parents, grandparents).

                Charles H. Jones lived in Weston, Massachusetts, from at least 1910 through 1930, and had an office at 72 Lincoln Street, in Boston’s shoe district.  Deed research confirms that Charles H. Jones Sr. bought his first shoe manufacturing business on May 1, 1882, from Marcus Reed, a native of Bridgewater. According to the 1880 census, Jones was living with Marcus Reed, Reed's wife, sister-in-law and brother, suggesting that Marcus Reed was mentoring Jones. The 2-story frame building, known as the Marcus Reed Shoe Factory was located on the comer of Bedford (Rt. 18) and Auburn streets in "Auburnville" in southwest Whitman where the shoe industry began. According to Whitman historian Martha Campbell, the Reed factory had been operating since about 1865, when Marcus Stetson Reed had partnered with S. Bates to build a shoe factory and store. The S. Bates and M.S. Reed factory manufactured fine calf boots and shoes and their business expanded through the 1870s, employing 220 workers. By 1880, Charles H. Jones had become an associate of Marcus Reed, and their company was known as Reed and Jones. On May 1, 1882, the 60 year old Marcus Reed transferred title to Charles H. Jones, who bought the M.S. Reed Factory and the machinery to carry on manufacturing boots and shoes, and called the new firm Charles H. Jones & Co. A year later, in 1883, Charles H. Jones sold the Reed factory to Stetson and Coombs. Jones, along with his co-partners and financial backers Henry B. Endicott and Henry B. Williams, became directors of the newly formed Charles H. Jones & Co., which conducted business in South Abington and Boston. Endicott was a prosperous industrialist and investor from Boston who lived in Dedham, operated the Endicott Shoe Company, and founded the Endicott Johnson Shoe Company in New York State. It is not clear whether Jones ever operated his company, the Charles H. Jones & Co., at the former Marcus Reed factory.

             In September 1882, Jones acquired another business. The origins of this business are not clear, but by 1878 it was known as Daniels and Jones. In 1880, John Q. Henry and John P. Daniels had acquired the title and business of their factory from Miller J. Cook Jr. and John Penniman. In 1882, Jones purchased the factory from his former employers Henry and Daniels, boot and shoe wholesalers of Boston. This small, relatively new factory building sat on the west side of a "townway" and was the nucleus of the present site known as the Commonwealth Shoe & Leather Co., the main headquarters of the business.

              In 1882 the property purchased by Charles H. Jones & Co. from Henry and Daniels "lay on the west side of a townway leading southerly from South Ave. near Fairbank's marble shop to Broad Street." The so called "townway" was later named Marble Street. In March, 1883 Charles H. Jones & Co. bought more land extending to Broad Street. According to an 1884 advertisement in the South Abington directory, Commonwealth Shoe had increased their facilities, bringing their capacity up to a daily production of 125 pairs of shoes or boots. The directors of Commonwealth Shoe that year were C.E. Bigelow, president, H. B. Endicott, treasurer, and C.H. Jones, secretary and general manager.

              In 1895, the local paper reported that Commonwealth shoe, among others, was expanding its factory. At this time shoes were distributed through jobbers (wholesalers) who then sold them to retailers. According to a Whitman Times article (1962) the wholesale firm of Smith and Stoughton owned retail outlets and formed a business arrangement buying and distributing Commonwealth's shoes. According to the 1965 Whitman Historical Commission booklet, the trademark 'Bostonian Shoe' was acquired at this time (about 1896), after Commonwealth Shoe bought out Smith and Stoughton.

               Commonwealth Shoe & Leather Company's branches extended to Maine. In 1897, at the behest of the Gardiner (ME) Board of Trade, Commonwealth Shoe, under Charles H. Jones Sr., opened Gardiner's first shoe factory on Maine Avenue. The four-story, wood-frame Gardiner factory featured a prominent Gothic Revival-style stair tower reminiscent of Building 1 in Whitman.

                At the start of 1906, sales through the Commonwealth Shoe and Leather Company office located at 72 Lincoln Street were international in scope, and the company was operating steam-powered factories in the three New England cities of Whitman, Massachusetts (the largest and original site), Gardiner, Maine, and Skowhegan, Maine, with a combined employment of 3,000 workers, and an output of 7,000 pairs of shoes per day.

                The Gardiner branch, which produced the Bostonian shoe, prospered, leading to factory expansions in 1906, 1913, and 1934. Maine historians Danny D. Smith and Earle G. Shettleworth Jr. have written that by the 1930s, the plant's 350 employees were manufacturing 1,800 pairs of shoes daily. In 1951, the Gardiner Board of Trade built a new facility for Commonwealth Shoe off Brunswick Avenue, and they transferred their operation to what was reputedly one of the "largest, most modem shoe factories in the country." The new factory also featured a Gothic-style stair tower. The original factory on Maine Avenue was demolished in 1970. Moccasins and other casual shoes were made in their factory in Monmouth, Maine, which opened in 1949 and was moved to Freeport in 1954.

Charles H. Jones and the Shoe Industry

         Under Charles H. Jones, the Commonwealth Shoe & Leather Co. participated in the broad issues affecting the shoe industry. Charles H. Jones testified at public hearings held by the Attorney General and the Massachusetts Legislature. In 1895 the Annual Statistics of Manufactures by the Massachusetts Dept. of Labor and Industries recorded that hand lasters in the shoe factories were being replaced by machines. In 1899, Commonwealth Shoe & Leather Co. became embroiled in a dispute with the hand lasters and the Laster's Union over pay per shoe. The hand lasters at Commonwealth Shoe were being displaced by McKay machines, which stitched leather uppers to soles. The McKay machines increased production exponentially, making hand lasting uncompetitive.

              When Commonwealth Shoe decided to pay their lasters less per shoe, the workers held an unprecedented strike, and only returned to work after Commonwealth Shoe & Leather Co. and the Boot and Shoe Workers Union appeared before the State Board of Arbitration and Conciliation. Charles H. Jones signed a negotiated settlement. Following this, the Union and the lasters appealed to the Governor, but the earlier settlement was upheld. Commonwealth Shoe & Leather Co., like other major shoe factories in Massachusetts, adopted new technology to increase mass production and lower costs. Nevertheless the Company held a stamp for the local Boot and Shoe Workers Union that guaranteed their products were made using union labor. This was the beginning of a so-called 'golden age' of shoemaking.

              Charles H. Jones promoted competition in the New England shoe industry. Commonwealth Shoe & Leather Co. was one of only two New England companies that joined the national sixty-member Shoe Manufacturers' Alliance, an organization formed to break the monopoly of the United Machinery Co. (USM), who charged royalties on selling and leasing essential shoe machinery. In 1906 Jones hired lawyer Louis Brandeis-later a Supreme Court Justice-to advocate for the Alliance against the leasing practices of USM [Letters of Louis Brandeis]. The Shoe Manufacturers' Alliance was unable to break the USM monopoly at this time, but over the next several decades challenges to USM's monopolist practices continued. In 1912 Jones appeared before the U.S Senate's Committee on Interstate Commerce, which was conducting an inquiry into the United Machinery Corporation.

               Charles H. Jones’s prominence in the shoe manufacturing business led to him being considered by some to be the most knowledgeable person in the world on the subject. His business interests led him to become active in public policy, fighting unceasingly in Washington to keep the import of leather hides free from tariffs. He assisted in the framing of four tariff acts: The Dingley Act of 1897; Payne–Aldrich Tariff Act of 1909; Underwood-Simmons Act of 1913; Fordney–McCumber Tariff Act of 1922.

Commonwealth Shoe & Leather Co. in the 20th Century

               In 1913 the Commonwealth Shoe & Leather Co. became a charter member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Jones had been a director the Boston Chamber of Commerce (1907), and remained an active member into the 1920s. Jones wrote numerous articles for trade magazines, including one on the condition of the shoe industry and its prospects for the future (1909). In 1919 Jones joined the Woodrow Wilson Independent League, a progressive political organization.

                Commonwealth Shoe & Leather Co. became a dominant industry in Whitman, manufacturing fine shoes and boots that were sold across the country. Commonwealth's success was largely based on a popular shoe named the "Bostonian Shoe." Still manufactured today, the Bostonian Shoe became nationally renowned. In 1906, Commonwealth Shoe had decided to distribute directly to retailers. The widespread positive response to the Bostonian brand meant that sales quadrupled between 1909 and 1917. Charles H. Jones Sr. and his son, Paul Jones Sr., were convinced that advertising in dealer displays and newspapers would fuel sales, and in 1923 Commonwealth also began a program of national advertising. This is reflected in the west wing addition (1923) to the north end of Building I, which allotted space on the fourth floor for the Advertising Dept. Historian Orra Stone wrote in his book History of Massachusetts Industries (1930) that under Jones' management, Commonwealth Shoe & Leather Co. ranked as one of the most consistent national advertisers in the footwear business. Stone also noted that Commonwealth Shoe & Leather Co. had expanded into a $2,500,000 corporation that employed 1,200 workers.

               During the 1920s and 1930s, Commonwealth bought retail stores and outlets across the country. Commonwealth's Bostonian shoes became world famous from its much expanded operation at the old Henry and Daniels site on Marble Street. Through government contracts they supplied shoes to the US Navy during World War II.

               In 1930, when Charles H. Jones stepped down as president, his son Paul Jones took over; but Charles Sr. continued as chairman until his death in 1933. In 1949, Charles H. Jones Jr. succeeded as president. In addition Charles Jones III, a third generation member of the Jones family, held executive positions in the company. In 1959, the family transferred ownership and operation to the management and certain employees of Commonwealth Shoe & Leather Co. Inc. Jones is reported to have coined the slogan identifying Whitman as 'SHOE TOWN USA'.

                In addition to supplying shoes to the US Navy in WWII, Commonwealth Shoe & Leather Co. took great pride in the entire company's contribution to the war effort. In 1944, against the backdrop of war, Commonwealth Shoe & Leather Co. published "Commonwealth in Battle Dress," a patriotic booklet of photographs and text. The book paid tribute to the achievements of the "Commonwealth family since Pearl Harbor, on both the military front and the production line at home." In 1944, more than 120 employees were on leave to serve in the armed forces.