Late 1930s Bowling Shoes and the Bruno Athletic Shoe Manufacturing Co.

On a recent trip we were delighted by the hotel’s basement rec room, which included a two lane bowling alley. Growing up in the 1960s it seemed like everybody bowled, at least on a casual basis when there was nothing else to do. The bowling alley in my little town was always busy. But times change, and the alley went under. And even though I collect sportswear, I have few bowling pieces in my collection.

But we had so much fun bowling that I was inspired to go looking for some vintage pieces to fill the bowling void. What I discovered is that great garments are very expensive, but the shoes seem to be a bargain. So unsurprisingly, I now have three new pairs of bowling shoes. The clothing will come, but I’m going to have to spend a bit more time looking.

I’m okay with that. One can – and did – bowl in any comfortable and casual clothing, but bowling shoes are a specialized item that can greatly enhance one’s game. So maybe the shoes are actually more important than the rarer-than-hen’s-teeth two-toned gabardine bowling dresses.

I’ve had to educate myself on the ages of bowling shoes. They are not “fashion” items, but as in most cases of sports attire, you can find fashion influences. In the case of the shoes shown here, I had a bit of help with the dating. The seller got these from the original wearer’s daughter, who is now in her late 70s. The daughter knew these were the bowling shoes her mother had worn as a teen in the late 1930s. That was a great starting place.

I then went looking for photographic evidence on the WWW. I didn’t find what I needed, but in the meantime I ran across a catalog from the Bruno Athletic Shoe Manufacturing Company in Manchester, Ohio. There’s no date on the catalog, but the illustrations of mainly men playing various sports are typical 1930s. All I could really find was that the company was owned by Mike S. Bruno. All the information I could find locates the company in Cincinnati in the mid 1940s. Mike Bruno was described as “late” in a 1954 marriage announcement of his son, Joseph. That’s it, so I would appreciate any additional facts about Bruno.

I also found a very similar design in a 1935-36 Lowe & Campbell Athletic Goods catalog.

I would imagine that this basic design remained in place for some years. In both catalogs the shoes were described as made from elk leather.

The soles are suede, or more likely, buckskin. The heels have a rubber finish, for additional control over the slide of the foot.

Bruno was primarily a maker of ice and skate boots, but they also manufactured bowling, baseball, and basketball shoes. They also advertised the “Bruno Magic Toe Stop”, guaranteed to keep the toes of your skates from developing those unsightly toe wrinkles.

7 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Shoes, Sportswear

7 responses to “Late 1930s Bowling Shoes and the Bruno Athletic Shoe Manufacturing Co.

  1. This is so neat! I can sort of relate to your story about your bowling alley going under. I lived about a mile away from a 1950s bowling alley. My Grandparents had first met there in the early 60s, and a few years ago, it went out of business. It’s sad that it’s gone, but today it is being used as a Spanish church, so I think of it as a good thing.
    ~ Megan Joy

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  2. And hey. They had a woman sales rep in the PNW.

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  3. I’d guess the soles are cowhide–elk will be a bit lighter leather that will be really nice for uppers, but thicker cowhide tends to work better for soles. You see the same thing in premium men’s shoes, which are made from calf leather.

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