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  • Red Wing Shoes and the Original American Work Boot
  • Christopher Pickings

Red Wing Shoes and the Original American Work Boot

To own an item of apparel for a long time, and wear it almost every day for many years, is a wonderful thing. The fact that this thing has been with you through experience; kept you warm and dry; and even changed it's shape and feel to suit your own, can make it an invaluable companion. Something to be treasured.

Red Wing Iron Ranger

Throughout modern history, there is one item that falls in to this category more than others. Boots. For work, or even just for transport, good boots have been important for a long time and, for us, they remain just as important now as ever. Boots are an item that, if made well and cared for, can be repaired again and again extending their value and usefulness far beyond that of an inferior throw away item. 

Since our inception almost three years ago we have carried Red Wing Boots at Pickings and Parry. They are a name synonymous with quality, founded on longevity and staunchly made in the USA. Born in 1905 in small town Minnesota, Red Wing was created by Charles Beckman, along with 14 other investors, to supply the growing local mining, farming and logging industries with hard wearing but comfortable footwear.

Red Wing Cutting Floor C1908

Before long the company began to grow it's range of styles to suit more specific purposes and practicalities. From hunting and farming, to engineering and steel work, the range of footwear we know today can mostly be traced back to an original last created between 1920-1970. There were others, too, in fact the Mid-Western area of North America became the centre of boot making in the early part of the 20th century. Boot makers like Chippewa, Wolverine and Thorogood were founded around the same time in neighbouring states such as Wisconsin and Michigan, to cater to the growing industries in their respective areas and, as a result, they still produce very similar products to this day - in a mid western style you might say...

Workers in Redwings

Early boots, although similar in their last, were not quite so recognisable by todays standards. Many came up over the calf or as far as below the knee for support and protection at work in the logging and oil industries. However, the 9111 was was released in 1919 and is still one of Red Wing's most recognisable shoes. Featuring the now famous crepe sole to insulate against the cold and provide traction without picking up excess mud in the field, this plain round toe design has been popular for almost 100 years.

9111 Red Wing Boots

By the 1950's Red Wing began producing it's wildly popular Moc Toe design - the 8 inch 877 boot, which was produced for hunters using a more oil and dirt resistant leather. This boot created the Irish Setter Brand line of Red Wing boots, due to it's colour and hunting style appearance. With it's comfort and practicality it was an extremely big seller and secured the Red Wing name in popular culture. It was seen on the feet of Jack Nicholson and Steve McQueen in the 1960's and is now an icon in it's own right, along with the even more practical little brother, the 875 6 inch version...

Red Wing Boots - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Steve McQueen - Kicking back in Red Wing 877 Boots

By the 1960's Red Wing out grew their original factory, and began building Plant No. 2 just 3 miles down the road. Going from strength to strength during the following decades, the company purchased the S.B Foot Tannery in 1987 to produce leather specifically for their footwear on the banks of Trout Brook close to the Red Wing factories. Founded in 1872, the tannery had supplied Red Wing with hides since the beginning and this new acquisition meant that greater consistency and supply would be possible as the company continued to increase its output.

SB Foot Tannery

Apart from the quality of the leather used in production, the purposeful design and high quality construction are what have driven the popularity of Red Wing Boots. Virtually all of their footwear is Goodyear Welted, making them strong, water tight (when properly cared for) and repairable again and again over the years. Most of the designs have triple stitched seams, produced on Puritan Machines dating back to the 1920's and every pair is finished and inspected twice before leaving the factory. 

Shoe finishing at the Red Wing factory

Over the years the need for good solid boots has not changed, and in today's throwaway society, with ever decreasing resources, it's good to know that Red Wing have changed little in their approach to shoe making. Making products that do the job they are supposed to, last a long time and can be repaired repeatedly to increase their usable life. We like this idea a lot, and we hope it continues for another 111 years.

  • Christopher Pickings