David Joseph Kessler, former president and owner of Kessler Shoe Manufacturing Co., whose Mother Goose line of shoes was worn by generations of children throughout the nation, died Monday of heart disease at Gilchrist Hospice Care.
The longtime Pikesville resident was 88.
Born in Baltimore, the son of an immigrant shoemaker from Europe, Mr. Kessler was raised in Northwest Baltimore.
During the 1920s, his father made $40-a-pair hand-turned women's shoes.
"They were made so well that you could fold them up and put them in your pocket. They were the top women's shoe," David Kessler told The Evening Sun in a 1977 interview.
Mr. Kessler dropped out of City College to help his father, Harry Kessler, who had founded Kessler Shoe Manufacturing Co. in 1936 in a building at Pratt and Light streets, now the site of the IBM Building.
In 1942, Mr. Kessler enlisted in the Army Air Forces, and after training at Temple University in Philadelphia, he was assigned to a highly secretive radar unit at Camp Murray in Jupiter, Fla.
At the end of the war, Mr. Kessler returned to Baltimore, where he earned his General Educational Development certificate.
"He worked at his father's plant during the day and went to Poly at night to get his GED, and later attended Johns Hopkins University," said his wife of 53 years, the former Charlotte Cohen.
Mr. Kessler and his brother, Irvin R. Kessler, who also worked in the company, moved the business in 1949 to a larger facility in Westminster because of production demands.
In the 1970s, they expanded the business once again when they opened a second plant, a 65,000-square-foot facility in Littlestown, Pa., that employed 300 shoemakers.
Mr. Kessler held his own nationally against other manufacturers of juvenile footwear such as Stride Rite, Jumping Jack and Buster Brown.
The company's line of Mother Goose shoes - originally called Kess-Kraft - were packaged in colorful boxes decorated with romantic nursery rhyme motifs, and found favor with kindergarten and elementary school students.
The company, whose annual production topped a million pairs of shoes - about 2,650 pairs of shoes per day - also manufactured two other shoe brands: Peppers, a line for older children, and Webbs, a women's shoe.
Mr. Kessler said in the newspaper interview that the labor-intensive shoe industry took "100 separate operations to produce a shoe," and that his company made 100 to 150 different types of shoes, each in a variety of colors and sizes.
In a 1984 article in The Baltimore Sun, Mr. Kessler further related that a child's lace-up shoe had to go through 20 operations before it was completed.
"There's is no substitute, however, for the craftsman," he said.
Eventually, the American shoe manufacturing industry collapsed under the weight of foreign competition from shoemakers in China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Brazil, Thailand, Spain and the Philippines.
"My husband tried fighting the imports with the other manufacturers but eventually closed the plant in 1989," Mrs. Kessler said. "He had always looked to produce a quality shoe at the lowest price."
Mrs. Kessler said that for years, her husband donated shoes to needy children.
The former longtime Terrapin Road resident, who later moved to One Slade Avenue in Pikesville, was a member of Suburban Country Club, where he played tennis until he was in his late 70s.
He enjoyed vacationing at Bethany Beach, Del., attending the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and dancing.
He was a member of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.
Services were Wednesday.
In addition to his wife and brother, who lives in Pikesville, Mr. Kessler is survived by a son, Sean M. Kessler of Brooksville, Fla.; a daughter, Andrea Jahnke of Rockville; a sister, Florence Yaffe of Pikesville; and four grandchildren.