Production of Preble Shoes comes to a momentary halt for an employee photo.
The Preble Shoe Manufacturing Company was located on the northwest corner of Church and Tom streets. This building, still standing but vacant, was later used as a casket factory before Morton Booth made gun cabinets there. Morton Booth also suffered a fire.
In 1919, the building at the corner of Church and Tom streets was made over to house a new shoe factory as part of the community effort to diversify as mining waned.
The Preble Shoe Manufacturing Corporation was incorporated for $150,000, with most of the stock owned by local investors.
Three years later, a fire broke out in the northwest corner of the factory around 7 p.m. on Aug. 2, 1922. Webb City firefighters responded to the alarm and did their best to control the fire but were hampered by the lack of extension ladders to reach the second floor of the building. Joplin firefighters arrived about an hour later bringing their fire truck that was equipped with pumps and extension ladders. Carterville firefighters also responded to the call. Strong winds stoked the flames and for a time nearby buildings were in danger. The fire was eventually extinguished thanks to the efforts of the responding fire departments and a large force of local volunteers.
The loss to the Preble Shoe building was estimated at $75,000, but the business was insured for $110,000.
The shoe factory was one of Webb City’s chief industries at the time. E. T. Webb was the president, E. J. Healey was the general manager and Walter Martin served as the sales manager.
At the time of the fire the shoe factory employed more than 150 men and women and had a weekly payroll of $3,000. Plans were made immediately to rebuild the factory, and it reopened on Oct. 2, 1922, with a smoking ban in place.
The origin of the fire may have been defective wiring, but it was never confirmed. It was also thought that an employee may have thrown a cigarette on the floor before quitting time on the night of the fire.
The name of the shoe factory was changed in 1923 to the Ozark Shoe Manufacturing Company after C.H. Preble left the company. The directors were listed as E.T. Webb, T.F. Coyne, G.S. Webster, E.E. Wood, John Ceasar, J. M. Hirons and H.B. Hulett.
Morton Booth was the last manufacturer using the building at Church and Tom streets in downtown Webb City.