A Brief History of Shoe Manufacturing the United States (Part Two)

Published: 27th October 2009
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By the late 19th century, shoes were largely manufactured in factories that specialized in a minute step of the shoemaking process. Materials, parts and products were shipped around the US. And a standardized American sizing system was finally put into practice.



The emergence of massive shoe factories led to the formation of shoemaking unions such as the Boot and Shoe Workers Union (formed in 1895) and the United Shoe Workers of America. Some of these unions continued to be major plays well into the 20th century.



By the turn of the century, the American shoemaking industry employed over 200,000 people and produced approximately 331 million pairs of shoes per year. The Northeast was still the regional capital of shoemaking in the United States, but shoe companies had begun to develop in the South and the West as well. This industrial landscape would not last long. American shoe companies struggled to recover after World War I. Exporting more than 75 million dollars in shoes before WWI, the American market was overwhelmed by foreign imports in the post-war years. It struggled to keep up with advances in technology such as canvas shoes, shoes with rubber soles and shoes made from synthetic (rather than leather) material. It was not until the advent of athletic and basketball shoes that American shoe companies finally found their niche. The American sneaker quickly became a marketing success, and business (for certain savvy companies) boomed.



Things really took off for American shoe companies like Nike in the 1970s when jogging became a national pastime. Running shoes manufactured in the United States were at the top of the game. These new shoes were expensive (up to 80 dollars a pair) and quickly became symbols of status and style.



Today very few "American" sneakers are actually made in the United States. Globalization has led to the outsourcing of labor to cheaper markets such as China, Korea and Vietnam. Some American shoe companies tried to disguise the fact that American sneakers were actually "Made in China", but by now, this is widely accepted to be true. As of 1997, only New Balance, Converse and Hyde Athletics maintained any shoe factories in the United States at all. (Although most of these companies also had factories in Asia.) This outsourcing of American shoes is controversial, but it will probably not be reversed as long as Asian markets remain a cheap place to perform manual labor.



Jane Barron works for OddShoeFinder.com,a free online website that helps people find mismatched footwear.Get more information on deformed feet, corrective shoes or foot length difference.

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