The History of Shoes

Brief observations by business owner Frank Giannino

Mankind throughout history has worn shoes to protect the feet. This basic need is still the main reason we wear shoes. Protective footwear dates back to the earliest known sandals in 8,000 BC. Along the way, fashion has been the biggest influence on how shoes are made and how they look. From one culture to another, through all of history, fashion has had, and still has, a great deal to do with how the shoes are made. The materials used were a reflection of what was available at that time to that given culture, from leather and wood to the high tech by-products of today's petrochemical industry. More bones are located in the foot than any other body part. The feet, even today, are vulnerable to the sharp objects of our environment.

The American Civil War had the greatest impact on how shoes are made. Prior to that event shoes were made by the local cobbler. During the Civil War, General George Washington's troops received the first pairs of factory made shoes to keep up with the demand. The initial pairs were made on a straight last and in whole sizes only. The last is a form, made of wood or cast iron and more recently plastics. It is the approximate shape of the foot. There was no difference between the right and the left straight-lasted boots. They hurt the troops. Cobblers had to do a lot of modifying to get them to work. Shortly after the straight-last boots, came the first factory produced boots made on a C-shape last, one boot for the right foot, one for the left. The heel was initially too high and again hurt the troops. The cobblers lowered the heel. Problem solved. The manufacture of mass produced shoes was on its way.

Factory produced shoes from the north were in such demand by soldiers from the south it was not uncommon after a battle to see dead soldiers from the north without their boots due to pilferage. Boots taken from the dead was very prevalent at Gettysburg. Soon to follow the Civil War was development of department stores to sell them in and shoe travelers to sell them to those stores as representatives of those manufacturers. Since the Civil War, the retail shoe service industry has changed. Many stores sell shoes now. Some stores sell shoes only and nothing else. Some stores are specialty shoe stores. Finding a niche in today's shoe industry, and in the world of business, is how we continue to pursue the American Dream of business ownership.