Thursday, July 23, 2009

Theme Thursday -- Shoe

As soon as I saw that this week’s theme for Theme Thursday was “Shoe” I instantly knew what I wanted to post. Wanting to be assured I had the most accurate information to pass along, I took a trip to our local historical society. There I met a little white haired lady in her mid-eighties named Izzy.

Izzy worked for the largest shoe factory in town, International Shoe Company, from 1947 -1949 and filled me in on the history of shoe making in my town. Izzy’s father and his three brothers all worked at the International Shoe Factory here in town. Each rose through the ranks to become an office manager. The three brothers each moved to a different factory in other small towns in Missouri. Izzy’s family, like so many others, depended on the shoe industry for their living. Children followed parents to work in the factories. When the factories closed to move overseas it often left entire families out of work across several generations.

I tried to give you the condensed version but my narrative is still lengthy. If you don’t have time to read it, you may want to jump to where I placed my pictures. There is a slide show of the vacant International Shoe Factory and a collage of the old Deb Shoe Factory that was recently made into a modern apartment building for those over fifty-five. Now here is my shoe tale.

1950 photo taken in the Brown Shoe Store, Washington Mo.

I live in a small Missouri riverfront town that started as a cluster of cabins around the only natural landing, in the area, suitable for use by ferryboats. The increasing need for trade goods, and craftsmen allowed the small hamlet to boom into a good size town that, in1869, became the city of Washington.

Looking for a stable economic base, the city fathers enticed the Roberts, Johnson & Rand Shoe Company of St. Louis to build a factory here on land provided by the city. That first factory opened in 1907 and Washington entered a new economic era as a shoe factory town. A second shoemaker located here in 1925 and for several generations the town's fortunes were tied to the shoe industry.

The town’s population had doubled to 5,900 by the 1920’s and by l934 over l900 Washingtonians were making their living at the shoe factories. Besides the two large factories, the town also supported a number of smaller factories and cobbler shops. These specialized in hand crafted custom orders for department stores in St. Louis.

1920 era men's work boots

The Roberts, Johnson, and Rand Shoe Company and the Peters Shoe Company merged in 1911 forming the International Shoe Company. International Shoe Company became the largest shoe manufacturing company in the United States. Their factory here manufactured men’s boots and was expanded several times over the years. During WWll our plant produced army boots. At its peak, the Washington International plant was manufacturing two million pairs of shoe a year. International operated here from 1907 until 1960 when most of the shoe industry in the US was moved overseas.

Vintage army boots

Since International closed its doors in 1960, the factory, encompassing two square blocks, sat empty until recently when small sections were rented to a metalsmith and someone who rebuilds electric motors. A local auctioneer has been using one of the out buildings as a staging area and the gravel parking area to hold estate auctions. Regardless, they are only using a small fraction of the space available.

But, the building I captured with my camera is still a relic with a chimney that is falling apart. Despite the tall chain link fence and the barbed wire, it is apparent that someone has been trespassing. But, when I took these photo’s I noticed that much of the graffiti is gone and many of the broken windows have been replaced. So perhaps this old building that once provided a living to so many will someday find the same rebirth as the old Deb Shoe Factory and become something new and modern once again.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: SHOE FACTORY
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Ladies 1930's Babydoll Pump

The Fore Shoe Company’s factory opened here in 1925 and went through several name changes, among them the KDK (Kain, Duncan and Krauss) and finally the Deb Shoe Company. Deb only made ladies dress shoes and ceased operation in the mid 1970’s, moving its manufacturing plant to Australia. The Deb Shoe Factory building looked very much like the International building above. It set empty from the mid 1970's until 2007 when restoration began. The building now houses a modern apartment building geared to those over fifty-five.

To see more shoe related posts or to join the fun visit Theme Thursday


  1. So lucky that you have a shoe factory in your town and with such a rich history to share!

    In my town we have several factories but I know nothing about them. :(
    I only hear the siren every 30 mins to remind people of the time. It's quite annoying actually. lol.

  2. Oh Rita! Great post. It's amazing what you can learn when someone gives you a theme to go on. I love the 1930's pump. So adorable for today. I would wear those in heartbeat, do you have them in a size 6? Love the post, and thanks for sharing. Country Hugs, Sherry

  3. Great post. Interesting slice. -Jayne

  4. Rita, fantastic post and history lesson( I'd not known about this ). Those old Army boots haven't changed much, either! Wow! Two million pairs of shoes a year!

    And it's grand what they've done with the other building. We've a lot of that going on in Worcester( mostly loft condos ). Cheers :)

  5. nice that you took the time to go get the history. cool story.

  6. I love historical pieces like this. And I even liked the look of the 1930s pumps!

  7. Superb history lesson and you know what? All of those old shoes would be just as appropriate today. There's a huge Vintage market here ..everything old is new again! Lovely post. The real shame is that all these fabulous quality shoes are a thing of the past now that so much of our footwear comes from China . .the quality just isn't there anymore.

  8. Yes, you were quite right, I did enjoy the visit to your site. The local history was fascinating - local history can be fascinating even if it isn't local to you - and the photographs were evocative. I'll be back.


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