The life that Oscar Lewis Tucker led might be summarized in two words: Making due. He was never destined for great wealth, but he lived an honorable life by making the best of the material goods at his disposal.
Born on Dec. 27, 1887, to James and Minnie Tucker, Oscar spent most of his life in Hannibal, coming of age with the onset of World War I and reaching midlife at the beginning of the Great Depression.
As early as 1905, at the age of 18, Oscar was working in the shoe industry - first at the Star Shoe Company, and later for Bluff City Shoe Co.
On May 25, 1918, he enlisted with the U.S. Army, 162nd Depot Brigade, reaching the rank of sergeant during World War I. He earned an honorable discharge on Dec. 24, 1918, and returned to Hannibal. In 1922, he was once again employed in the shoe manufacturing business, this time working for International Shoe Company.
He and his wife, Mary Emma, primarily made their home with her parents, Samuel W. and Mary A. Thompson, or in rented quarters on Hannibal’s South Side.
During the Depression, when the demand for shoe factory workers dried up, Oscar set out on his own, opening a shoe repair shop at 314 Mark Twain Avenue. Next door, he operated a second-hand store. He would continue to operate those businesses into the 1950s. He died Oct. 19, 1956, and is buried at Riverside Cemetery.
The stone on his grave was government issued, in recognition of his military service during World War I.
The historic Bluff City shoe factory building at Maple Avenue and Warren Barrett Drive (formerly Collier Street) was destroyed by fire in February 2002.
Bev Darr, Courier-Post Staff Writer, compiled the following data about Hannibal’s shoe factories from "The Story of Hannibal," by Hannibal historians Hurley and Roberta Hagood.
Bluff City shoe factory was among several local shoe factories opened in the early 1900s.
One of its more memorable events occurred on Feb. 9, 1906. On that date a shipment of shoes went to Boston, and this was the first western shoes to go to an eastern market.
The factory building was built in 1904, making it just two years short of a century old when the fire occurred. It was originally Bluff City Shoe factory. Its first product was a soft shoe specialty made by John Logan Jr., a cobbler since 1878.
His workshop was first upstairs at 123 N. Main St. In March 1900, Bluff City Shoe Co. was incorporated with the following stockholders: George W. Dulany, John Logan Jr., Harry K. Logan, W.J.A. Meyer and William Hawksworth.
The first factory was at 108 N. Fourth St., and in 1904 the shoe factory moved into its block-long building at Maple and Collier.
After producing shoes there for more than 20 years, in July 1925, Bluff City sold its plant and equipment to International Shoe Co., which then gained control of all shoe production in Hannibal.
In 1928, the year of the stock market crash that sent the country into the Great Depression, more than 2,300 workers were employed at Hannibal's shoe factories. They were producing 6 million pairs of shoes each year.
Ten years later, in 1938, International Shoe announced it had manufactured a total of 100 million pairs of shoes and that more than $40 million in wages had been paid in Hannibal.
In 1943 Bluff City was converted into a facility for reconstructing army shoes. Shoe were rebuilt, not repaired. More than 6,000 were rebuilt daily by 800 workers. In 1950 the Bluff City factory was operated on a 50-hour work week.
Shoe production in Hannibal came to a close in the 1960s. In March 1962 International closed its Seventh Street plant and in 1964 production stopped at the Bluff City plant. The Rubber Plant closed in 1967, ending more than 60 years of shoe production in Hannibal.
Oscar Tucker worked with shoes throughout his lifetime. He first worked for Hannibal’s shoe factories, and later opened his own shoe repair shop on Mark Twain Avenue. HERRING PHOTO/STEVE CHOU COLLECTION