Shoemaking rose as a profession during the middle ages when shoemakers were called cordwainers. The term was a reference to a specific city in Spain that was famous for the leather that it produced.
In England and the United States, another group of tradesmen known as cobblers arose. Although the two professions are often referred to interchangeably, there was originally a distinct difference between them. Cobblers repaired shoes using older scraps of leather. Cordwainers shaped new scraps of leather into shoes. Customers could either select readymade shoes, that shoemakers made from patterns, or they could request a pair of custom fitted shoes. It usually took a shoemaker a full workday to make a single pair of shoes.
Shoemaking can be traced to the 17th century in America with the founding of Jamestown. In the 18th century, shoemakers earned prosperous livings making boots for military personnel. In Colonial Williamsburg, there were 12 shoemaker shops. It was not until the 19th century that shoes became a primary element of fashion. By that time, the Industrial Revolution had given rise to machinery that could mass produce shoes, although the introduction of machinery to shoemaking was very controversial. Many shoemakers felt that machinery could not produce the same quality of shoes as hand stitching them.