William Lewis Douglas

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William Lewis Douglas
42nd Governor of Massachusetts
In office
January 5, 1905 – January 4, 1906
Lieutenant Curtis Guild, Jr.
Preceded by John L. Bates
Succeeded by Curtis Guild, Jr.
Personal details
Born (1845-08-22)August 22, 1845
Plymouth, Massachusetts
Died September 17, 1924(1924-09-17) (aged 79)
Boston, Massachusetts
Political party Democratic

William Lewis Douglas (August 22, 1845 – September 17, 1924) was a U.S. businessman and politician from Massachusetts. He served as the 42nd Governor of Massachusetts from 1905 until 1906. He also founded and oversaw the growth of the W. L. Douglas Shoe Company, a highly successful Brockton, Massachusetts business that became one of the world's largest shoe manufacturers. He also opened the first nationwide chain of shoe stores devoted to selling the company's products.


William Lewis Douglas was born on August 22, 1845 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, to William and Mary (Vaughan) Douglas. His father died when he was five. He received only intermittent schooling, and began working for his uncle in his shoemaking business. He eventually became an apprentice, working for his uncle until a decline in business in 1859 forced him to take factory work. The advent of the American Civil War revived the demand for boots, and Douglas briefly returned to the shoemaking business before enlisting in the Union Army. He served for one year, was wounded, and received his discharge in 1865.

After the war Douglas went west to the Colorado Territory. There he again took up shoemaking, but he also spent time working as a partner in a shoe store in Golden. In 1868 he sold his share in the store and returned to Massachusetts. There he worked for eight years as a factory supervisor in Brockton.

W. L. Douglas Shoe Company

Newspaper advertisement in New York City, 1899

In 1876 Douglas borrowed $875 in order to open his own shoe factory. One critical decision he made in establishing the business was that he would sell the shoes he manufactured through his own line of retail outlets, rather than shipping them to other retailers or intermediaries. His business grew rapidly: every few years the factory's output doubled, and by 1892 he was making 3,600 shoes per day. By the early 1900s his factory was the largest shoe manufactory in the world. The retail side of the business also grew: the first store opened in 1894, and by 1900 there were 55 stores nationwide.

Douglas was one of the first shoe manufacturers to widely advertise his products. He stamped the soles of his shoes with his own image (a use he took up after he saw P. T. Barnum's advertising), making it one of the most recognized likenesses of the time.

Douglas' workers were members of the Boot and Shoe Workers' Union, which in 1899 sharply raised its dues in order to finance improved benefits and welfare funds.[1] The rank and file were unhappy with this increase, and the dispute threatened the company's ability to label its products with the union stamp. Douglas, who had a reputation as a fair employer, worked with the union to ensure his employees paid the higher dues.[2]

Political career

In 1884 Douglas was elected as a Democrat to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, serving two terms. He then served one term in the state senate in 1887, and was elected mayor of Brockton for a single term in 1890.

In 1903 he became prominent in state level politics opposing the rise of the Socialist Party, working to draw Socialist sympathizers instead to the Democratic fold by advocating a strong labor-oriented platform.[3] In 1904 Republican Governor John L. Bates vetoed an eight-hour work day bill, galvanizing labor opposition. The Democrats united behind Douglas, highlighting his labor-positive credentials and his fiscal conservatism.[4] Douglas defeated Bates by a comfortable margin with support from the American Federation of Labor, and also drawing significant votes from Socialist circles.[5] He served a single term, after which he returned to his business. Douglas died in 1924.


  1. Bedford, pp. 112–113
  2. Bedford, p. 113
  3. Bedford, pp. 206–208
  4. Bedford, p. 221
  5. Bedford, pp. 221–222


External links

Political offices
Preceded by
John L. Bates
Governor of Massachusetts
Succeeded by
Curtis Guild, Jr.