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#196772 - 02/28/10 12:44 AM Footwear of a hundred years ago?
unimogbert Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 08/10/06
Posts: 864
Loc: Colorado
I had a nice day today out slogging around an old ranch that is now a State Wildlife Area. There is a layer of snow on about 2/3 of the ground and the remaining clear areas are either rocky ground or melted pasture that is thin dead grass over mud.

I was stomping along in my modern boots with tread, waterproof sole, and gore-tex lining. Add gaiters and I had pretty happy feet even in the difficult conditions. (great workout!)

I've read a book about the people who made this ranch and their life in the 1920's so as I move about the area I think of how it was for them.

So- What kind of footwear was used 100 years ago?

I imagine that since it was a cattle ranch that the owner rode his horse pretty much everywhere so he wasn't slogging in the muck for hours.... but when down on the ground fencing or whatever, I imagine that leather cowboy boots got pretty wet pretty quickly. Then they needed to be dried that evening.

Was that how they did it? Wet feet all day and dry your boots over the fire at night and replace the boots frequently (if you can)?

#196776 - 02/28/10 01:33 AM Re: Footwear of a hundred years ago? [Re: unimogbert]
Art_in_FL Offline

Registered: 09/01/07
Posts: 2432
In the south, into the early 1900s boys didn't often get shoes until they were considered men, 16-18 years old. Only rich folk's kids wore shoes. Adults from poorer families often only wore shoes in the winter. Or going to formal settings like church. This saved wear and tear on what was a very expensive item. Shoes were handed down, resoled and patched. Girls in poor families might never get shoes. Barefoot and pregnant wasn't so much a rural stereotype as simply a fact of life.

This lasted well into the 60s in pockets of poverty. America, and Kennedy in particular, was appalled by the third-world poverty of Appalachians, rural Alabama, Mississippi.

Rural folks, contrary to the mythology from Disney, were often sickly and weak. One of the reasons for this was the lack of shoes and the resulting parasitism.

Interesting reading about the rural US in the 30s that shows how important shoes are:

These unsettling thoughts were vividly brought out when I saw pictures of a round worm crawling out of the nose of a little girl, already bloated from combined hookworm, chronic malaria, and malnutrition. Her mother, in her thirties, stood by her side. She was haggard and looked to be in her sixties. Both were barefooted. Walker Evans and James Agee captured similar images of the rural South in their poetic prose and photographic classic, “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.” Nearly a fourth of rural Southerners, black and white alike, had the vicious and lethal combination of all three diseases: hookworm, chronic malaria, and malnutrition.

Shoes are far more than just a handy way of avoiding thorns or staying warm. They save lives and protect the vitality of populations. It has been far less than 100 years that they have been nearly universal in the US. Like universally safe food and water they are recent arrivals on the scene.

#196777 - 02/28/10 01:38 AM Re: Footwear of a hundred years ago? [Re: unimogbert]
hikermor Offline
Geezer in Chief

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 7372
Loc: southern Cal
One thing you see in pictures are laced leather boots that came up to mid calf. I briefly wore a pair of my father's from that era. One interesting aspect was that they had slick leather soles, a rather bad feature.

Other than that, they weren't too bad and the quality of the leather was excellent. Offhand, I'll bet people took good care of the boots and applied dressings to keep them relatively waterproof.

If I am not mistaken, the LL Bean shoepac, the type with the rubber lower boot, dates from around 1910. Climbers and loggers wore boots with nailed soles, which must have been a little rough when worn indoors.
Geezer in Chief

#196779 - 02/28/10 01:57 AM Re: Footwear of a hundred years ago? [Re: hikermor]
ironraven Offline
Cranky Geek
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 09/08/05
Posts: 4642
Loc: Vermont
Spiked boots were murder on flooring. I can remember as a little kid, we still had a store in my town that hadn't really changed other than to add electricity since the 1920s. (Inventory hadn't changed much either, which is why they are gone, but I do miss their selection of wool.) They had a sign saying that spiked boots were forbidden in the store, but stocking feet were acceptable.

It was in english, french and what I think was italian, FWIW.

When a man dare not speak without malice for fear of giving insult, that is when truth starts to die. Truth is the truest freedom.

#196783 - 02/28/10 02:18 AM Re: Footwear of a hundred years ago? [Re: ironraven]
Teslinhiker Offline

Registered: 12/14/09
Posts: 1413
Loc: Cranbrook BC (Finally)
Once when were in the Yukon, we had the opportunity to talk with a shoemaker who handmade boots and shoes exactly like the footwear that people wore during the Klondike Gold Rush. The shoemaker sold these shoes and boots to tourists who paid a handsome price.

I recall looking at and trying on a pair of boots and it struck me that even though the workmanship was excellent, the boots were very uncomfortable as there was no arch support or padding of any type and with no tread whatsoever on the soles.

The shoemaker told us that in the winter, those would be gold seekers who could not afford better and fur insulated boots often purchased boots 2-3 sizes bigger then they needed so that they could wear multiple pairs of socks in an attempt to keep their feet warm in temperatures down to -50F. Often the boots would get wet and freeze solid on the men's feet and there was a lot of frozen toes that had to be amputated every winter.

To this day, whenever I go out in the winter and walk through snow and ice cold water in my modern waterproof and insulated boots, I cannot help but think of how those old timers endured the crude footwear more then a century ago.

BTW, the spiked or nailed soled boots mentioned by a couple of posters, these boots are often called cork or caulk boots in my AO. Though not as popular as they used to be, there are still a lot of these boots to be found in many of the northen men's workwear supply stores.
Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.

John Lubbock

#196791 - 02/28/10 04:11 AM Re: Footwear of a hundred years ago? [Re: unimogbert]
Susan Offline

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 5163
Loc: W. WA
"So- What kind of footwear was used 100 years ago?"

It was more or less like today's regular shoes, custom-made by hand, and relatively expensive. Most were preserved or waterproofed using what was locally available, probably mainly beeswax and tallow.

From Wikipedia: "Since medieval times, dubbin, a waxy product, was used to soften and waterproof leather; however, it did not impart shine. It was made from natural wax, oil, soda ash and tallow."

A former coworker was involved with the Society for Creative Anacronism (SCA) and she had told me about dubbin, but I had forgotten the word and had to look it up. blush


#196816 - 02/28/10 03:57 PM Re: Footwear of a hundred years ago? [Re: Susan]
unimogbert Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 08/10/06
Posts: 864
Loc: Colorado
Thanks for the interesting responses! I looked up hobnails and caulks and it appears that a woodsman would be wearing either of those but would still have to attend to dressing and drying the boots very frequently. I suppose campfires also were for drying socks and boots as well as heating coffee.

I've read that the Apache had a dual-mocassin system where they had very soft inner slippers used like socks covered with much rougher duty footwear and leggings.

The country I'm hiking in is shortgrass prairie with short cacti and rattlesnakes. It's noplace to be barefoot if there is a choice. (no rattlesnakes about on a a snow-muddy day though)
It's really not even a sound idea to wear fabric boots due to the cacti.

We sure have it easy. My boots are all dry thanks to my Peet boot dryer and the boots being mostly synthetic materials....

#196818 - 02/28/10 04:22 PM Re: Footwear of a hundred years ago? [Re: unimogbert]
hikermor Offline
Geezer in Chief

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 7372
Loc: southern Cal
I've experienced cactus spines piercing leather boots (although they pierce canvas a lot deeper). I had a flat once from a mesquite thorn piercing a truck tire.
Geezer in Chief

#196840 - 02/28/10 09:06 PM Re: Footwear of a hundred years ago? [Re: unimogbert]
Am_Fear_Liath_Mor Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 08/03/07
Posts: 3078

So- What kind of footwear was used 100 years ago?

British Army Ammunition boots, they have been around since the late Victorian era.


You can still pick up unused unissued boots today,


#196930 - 03/01/10 08:18 PM Re: Footwear of a hundred years ago? [Re: Am_Fear_Liath_Mor]
ILBob Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 02/05/10
Posts: 776
Loc: Northern IL
My mom tells stories from the hills of KY in the late 50s early 60s that most children wore no shoes during the summer and got a pair in the fall that they wore until it got warm enough to go barefoot again.

Shoes were repaired many times and handed down.

AFAIK, while we were living there, we all wore shoes year round. But we were Yankees just living there temporarily. smile

Warning - I am not an expert on anything having to do with this forum, but that won't stop me from saying what I think. smile


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