Al Malpa Ephemera


c 1890 Business Card - Lentz Shoes

c 1890 Business Card - Lentz Shoes


John E. Lentz, Wholesale Boot & Shoe Manufacturer and dealer in Rubbers.

602 & 604 Hamilton St. Allentown, Pa.

Represented by [line is not filled out]

On the bank is an engraving of the John E. Lentz & Co. building.

Handwritten in ink on the back: “Mr. Lentz is willing to try a car of shooks about March 1st at 2 cents per foot. Write him about that time and he will send you the sizes.” 1890. And penciled at the top: Feb. 11, ’90.

The long story that follows was found on the Internet; it came from WFMZ News in 2016 about a building marked for demolition in Allentown: “…the most distinctive is 602 Hamilton, a small handsome building that had maintained its architectural integrity. Its style is called Italianate, popular in America from 1850 to 1880, based in part on what mid-19th century Americans thought a villa in Italy should look like. What makes 602 unique is that it was designed not to house a wealthy railroad baron like Asa Packer, whose Jim Thorpe mansion is Italianate, but a shoe making establishment. Built between 1867 and 1869, its architect is unknown. Chances are good it was either Louis Jacoby, a 20 year old apprentice to Gustavus Aschbach, a German born European trained engineer/architect, or Aschbach himself.

The client in this case was young John Lentz. Not much older than Jacoby, he was already making himself known as a figure in the city's burgeoning shoe trade. That he wanted the style for his business as well as his home (528 Walnut Street, now law offices) suggests appreciation for architecture beyond Lentz's better educated contemporaries. John Lentz came from a family with Pennsylvania German roots that went back to the 18th century. He was born on February 1st 1842, the son of William and Sarah (Balliet) Lentz. His father was a farmer in Whitehall Township. One of 12 children, not all of whom survived into adulthood, John Lentz's education was brief. "His educational advantages were limited to a few months attendance during the winter in the public schools," notes his biography.

Perhaps deciding farming was not for him, at an early age Lentz took up the trade of carriage maker. To make extra money in the normally duller winter months, he sold cigars. Apparently Lentz was good at carriage making and after 3 years of doing it in Whitehall, in 1863 he left for the big city of Allentown. Here he set up shop in the Engelman building on South 7th Street. Lentz shared space with fellow carriage maker Daniel Mager. But Lentz was ambitious to do something other than make carriages. So in 1867 he sold his interest in the business to E.H. Blank, and before the year was out he was in a wholesale shoe business with William S. Young as Young and Lentz.

They operated first out of 603 Hamilton, a building Young owned, moving across the street to 602 in 1869 to the new Italianate building that Lentz had had built. This building enabled the firm to expand beyond the 12 employees it had in its employ in 1867. Entrepreneurial in many directions, Young had a hand in everything from newspaper publishing to real estate speculations. It was Young's son William who created the Allentown Stars, the city's first baseball team. Young's involvement in the shoe trade began early. In 1850 he had joined with Henry Leh, the father of what became Leh's Department Store, in the first shoe manufacturing business in Allentown. Writing in 1900, Leh noted in 1850 Allentown had a population of 3,500 inhabitants. "Going along our main thoroughfare at the noon hour one would not meet a single team and very few persons." All shoes were made by hand and supplies arrived on the canal boat. "Shoes were made at only one width to a side," he added.

What changed shoe making in the Lehigh Valley was the Civil War. Young and Leh were among the first to get a government contract to make boots for the Union Army. Probably the fact that Simon Cameron, the Secretary of War, was a Pennsylvanian didn't hurt their chances. "During the Civil War our firm had one of the first Army contracts," Leh recalled. "The committee came to Allentown on the Sabbath to ascertain whether we had shoes on hand, and on the following day they sent us an order for the shoes in stock and instructed us to make more, which was the start of our Army work."

Young left the partnership in 1872. Lentz brought out his share and created John E. Lentz & Co. For the next 30 years Lentz manufactured and ran his business, retail and wholesale, out of 602 Hamilton. An 1891 photograph of the Lentz building shows a sign on the outside wall advertising boots and shoes for sale. According to Leh, Lentz was best known for making high quality women's and children's shoes.

Lentz was more than his business. He was one of the founders of Allentown Hospital and its first treasurer, a post which he served in for four years and gave $1000 toward the building's construction. Lentz was also a director of the Allentown National Bank.

Lentz was known to be a good employer. In 1892 he turned over the business to his employees' control to take a doctor ordered trip to California. On his return they presented Lentz with a plaque in appreciation for the trust he had in them. Over 100 of the employees had endorsed it.

Lentz died on November 19, 1902 at age 61 and was buried in Fairview cemetery. His business was taken over by his brother, Silas, who moved it across 6th Street. Shortly thereafter 602 Hamilton became the Palace Pharmacy, run by Robert Good. It had a popular ice cream stand that catered to children. Most recently it has been the location of several Italian restaurants. The last, Pasta Alla Rosa, closed in December. See it before its gone.”

Condition: Size 5.25 x 3 inches. Red notations at top corners on the front of the card.


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