The History of Red Wing Shoes

When you think of Red Wing’s, you think of a time when handmade was the standard. You think of strong, oiled leather. Soles that conform to your feet. The click of vibram heels on concrete. You think of a business that became the patriarch of all modern bootmakers today.

Talk to any mid-westerner, working man, or boot enthusiast and ask them,

“Who makes a damn good boot?”

9 times out 10, Red Wing will be the answer. And, for good reason; Red Wing’s have a long, reputable history of being the most dependable handmade boot in the marketplace.

So, we thought it more than worthy to look into that very history of America’s beloved shoe company.

The City of Red Wing

Founded in the 1850s in an area shared by Sioux Indians and American settlers alike, Red Wing, Minnesota shortly became the leading exporter of wheat in the entire U.S. This gave settlers the economic opportunities to start several successful ventures - one of which is the great shoe company named after the city itself.

red wing vintage history

The impact of having one of the most successful shoe companies in the U.S. be home to such a relatively small town has to be noted - Red Wing’s completely reshaped the economic structure of their small city with the sheer amount of jobs they offered local workers. This was a company that was creating more than 200,000 boots per year by hand, within the first 10 years alone. They were also the leading manufacturer for American soldier’s footwear during WWI.

They've only continued to grow from there, and we have to tip our hats to the company for continuing to stay true to their roots and to their people. Not many companies are able to feel homegrown while being one of the largest shoe retailers in the world.

But, for the company itself - how did it actually all begin?

It started with a need.

Back in 1883, in the old town of Red Wing, Minnesota, a hard working man by the name of Charles Beckman became a shoe merchant with the help of a company called SB Foot. He opened his own retail store back then - called C. Beckman and Co. Vendor of Boots and Shoes - and went on to sell over 500,000 pairs of footwear in Red Wing, alone.

Handling all manners of footwear, Mr. Beckman discovered the need for a fine-crafted, handmade boot. From his experience with retail, he knew that working men needed a boot much more comfortable and durable than the ones already available.

So, he did what every great forward-minded entrepreneur does when they find a gap in the marketplace - he filled it. Charles Beckman, along with 14 other great investors, went on to found The Red Wing Shoe Company.

The original Red Wing boot was a beast of design; knee high, laced to the ankle, and secured with 4 buckles around the shins, the first Red Wing boot left nothing to be desired when it came to the high-quality workmanship and handmade crafting.

Every piece of leather was hand cut and stitched using the same Puritan sewing machines that are still used today. It was laborious at first; the employees of Red Wing worked hard, 10 hour days to crank out 110 pairs before closing time. But, word soon spread of the superior craftsmanship, and Red Wing boots became a highly sought-after brand for the working man.

Red Wing became the go-to for occupational footwear.

irish settlers

If you’ve ever walked into a Red Wing shop, you know how diverse their boot collection is. They seem to have a boot for every field, every activity, and every man. That respect and supply of quality footwear for men in different lines of work started back in 1920. Red Wing carved itself into the marketplace as the go-to for occupational footwear with their introduction of the Oil King Boot - designed to specifically handle the grit, slips, and hardships of the oil-field worker.

It wasn’t just for men, either.

In 1926, Red Wing released their first women’s boot, The Gloria. They didn’t skimp on their promise of delivering the highest quality boot possible, either. Take a look at the excerpt from their 1926 catalog:

“Ladies’ 15 inch soft and easy KHAKI ELK sport boot, patterned to fit perfectly. DURABLY BUILT, BUT LIGHT IN WEIGHT. Single sole welt. Flexible oak outer soles. Oak inner soles, heels and counters. Twill lined, moccasin vamp. Concealed box. Leg pocket for compact, mirror, etc. Special combination last. A, B and C widths.”

If that doesn’t speak to you about quality… We’re not sure what will.

Then, they went tactical… and trendy.

1932 saw the release of two of Red Wing’s most popular boots: The Billy Boot and The Marion.

The Billy Boot was an all-laced leather boot that feature a pocket at the top for men to carry and easily access their knives. They actually marketed it as “America’s Most Complete Line of Boy’s Boots.” Which goes to show the difference of culture back then! Here’s even more of a shocker: the boot only cost a whopping whole $7.00…. If only.

womens boots

The Marion boot (known as No. 3961) set a now-over popularized trend for women’s footwear. You know the laceless, feminine boot that you could probably see on every walk you took down a major city? Almost like a rain boot of sorts? Well, Red Wing designed the original, and man was it a sturdy piece of handmade, trendsetting gold.

Red Wing then went on to design the notorious Irish Setter boot in 1952, right before they opened up their second factory right next to the first in 1964. Because, well…

Business was booming.

In 1987, Red Wing went on to acquire and save the very company that helped Mr. Beckman create that first retail store so long ago. Since then, Red Wing has gone back to it’s roots, producing their line of boots called The Heritage collection - a line that stays true to traditional design, handmade craftsmanship, and lifelong quality.

If you’re in the market for a pair of boots that will last your lifetime, you’re already looking in the right direction. Red Wing’s won’t just be your daily boots for the rest of your life and stay in good shape, though - they’ll only get more weathered, rustic, and comfortable as the time goes by.

“Red Wing Shoes… For people who work.”

Looking to lace up a pair of your own boots? You can check our InR's favorites in our Red Wing collection

red wing shoes

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