Tag Archives: shoes

Wellco Shoes, Boots and Slippers

Photo copyright and courtesy of Small Earth Vintage

I’ve known about Wellco for a long time.  The factory used to be located just up the road a bit in Waynesville, North Carolina.  I guess I’d never considered doing a post about the company because in my mind they are makers of combat boots for the US military.  But there is a very interesting story behind Wellco, and some very pretty slippers.

The story revolves around Heinz Rollman who was a third generation shoemaker in Cologne, Germany.  In the 1930s he and his brother Ernst and two cousins,  Walter and Curt Kaufman, were working on ways to mold and attach rubber soles to leather uppers.   Because they were Jewish, in 1935 the family shoe factory was confiscated by the Nazi regime and was “aryanized.”  They then left the increasingly hostile atmosphere in Germany and settled in Brussels, Belgium where they formed a corporation to protect their patents and try and grow their business.

But by 1939, Germany was at war, and Belgium was being threatened.  The partners chose Heinz to go to the US to see if it was reasonable for them to relocate there.

In the US Heinz Rollman got in touch with rubber manufacturers, and found an ally in A.F. Friedlander, the owner of Dayton Tire and Rubber.   Together they scouted out for a location for a new rubber processing factory, and found the idea spot in Western North Carolina.  Friedlander built a factory, which became Dayco, and Rollman’s shoe operation was located in a wing of the factory.  Ernst Rollman was able to get to the US in 1941 with his wife and daughter, and after the war they were joined by the Kaufmans who spent much of the war in Switzerland.

Over the years the company was involved not only in making shoes and slippers, but also in research.  They held many patents on the vulcanization of rubber and  its application in shoe manufacturing.  In the 1960s they developed a combat boot for the US military that was suitable for the wet conditions of Vietnam, and ironically, many years later they developed a boot for the desert conditions of Iraq.

The most interesting part of this story is the man, Heinz Rollman.  He was known for his generosity and helpfulness, and many credit him with the original idea for the Peace Corps.  He wrote two books, My Plan for World Construction in 1952, and The Observer Corps, a Practical Basis for Peaceful Coexistence in 1957 that outlined how people from various countries interacting and helping one another might be beneficial for world peace.

I was pretty amazed at all the information there is on the internet concerning Heinz Rollman.  I found stories about his generosity on various local chat boards.  One told how he would visit a local store and spend $5000 a time on gifts for employees.   When the factory burned in the 1960s, Rollman paid the workers for the days they missed, and very quickly found a new building and machinery to get people back to work.  When people today lament the loss of American jobs, they are remembering businesses like Wellco and men like Heinz Rollman.

Wellco passed out of family hands several years ago, and the community was upset when the new owners abruptly moved the operation to Tennessee.  The slipper division was sold in the 1980s, but Wellco continues to make boots in Tennessee and elsewhere.

I want to thank Jan Schochet for alerting me to the Wellco story.  Jan co-wrote The Family Store, a book based on her research of Jewish businesses in Asheville.  Her family owned a store called The Bootery.  They sold Wellco shoes, mainly because Jan’s father was so impressed and moved by Heinz Rollman who personally traveled around the area with his suitcase of samples.

Correction:  I have corrected the name of Jan Schochet’s family store where Wellco shoes were sold.  It was the Bootery.  They also owned A Dancer’s Place.

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Filed under Made in the USA, North Carolina, Shoes

More Days Wear, Warm and Dry in “Ball-Band” Boots

I think most of us in the Northern Hemisphere could do with a good, warm pair of boots today.  This little sales booklet comes from 1922, and is full of interesting options.

Ball-Band was a trademark of the Mishawaka Woolen Manufacturers of Mishawaka, Indiana.  As the name implies, the company started out as a woolen mill, making blankets and wool felt boots.  In 1886 the company conceived of a boot with knitted wool uppers in which the wool was first knit, then felted through shrinkage.  The owner’s mother, Mrs. Jacob Beiger, knit the prototype for the product.  They were still being sold in 1922.

Rubber shoes and over-shoes were added as a product in 1898 with many of the shoes having a rubber sole and upper, and wool legs.  In 1922, they added sneakers, or sports shoes.  The next year the company changed their name to the Mishawaka Rubber and Woolen Company.

The little booklet tells not only the company’s story, but it also explains how rubber is produced and made usable by use of the Goodyear process.  They also treat us to views of the woolen mill.

To vintage collectors  probably the most familiar Ball-Band product is their line of Summerettes.  Summerettes were fashionable canvas sandals which had rubber soles and were meant for casual wear.  The name Summerettes was trademarked by the company in 1947 with the claim that the name had been in use since 1934, but their era of popularity was the 1950s.

By the 1960s, rubber over-shoes, regardless of their practicality, had become passe’.   Ball-Band fell behind in the sneaker game, with Keds, Converse, and PF Flyers all being the brands kids loved.  In 1967 Ball-Band was bought by Uniroyal, and in 1969, the last pair of shoes was made at Mishawaka.  Today the factory site is a public park.

A quick internet search showed that the Ball-Band brand name lives on in the form of cheap synthetic shoes for nurses and nuns.  I assume they are made in the Far East.

I have a new pair of Ball-Band shoes that I’ll show off soon.  They are sneakers in the form of Maryjanes.

PS:  How about that cover image?  Would you put a gun into the hands of a child that small?  And check out his “hunting” dog.

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Ad Campaign – Eskiloos, 1960

The big draw for winter is ESKILOOS

(warm, washable, over-the-sock boots)

Eskiloos – the sleek-fitting, snug-feeling, smart-looking news!  Made by U.S. Rubber of striking new fabrics, all warmly lined, all winterproofed.  Light on the feet, yet sturdy.

I don’t need to tell you that I love these, right?  That if I had a time machine before me with only one trip to the past I’d set the dial to “wherever the newest in shoes is sold,”  September 1960?  I’d buy five pairs in both styles, in all the colors available so I’d have a lifetime supply of Eskiloos.

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Filed under Advertisements, Shoes

The Enna Jettick Aerocar, 1930s

If you have been looking at vintage shoes  chances are you’ve encountered the Enna Jettick brand.  The company was a division of Dunn and McCarthy of Auburn, New York which had been in business since 1867.  The first reference I can find to their Enna Jettick brand is 1928.

Enna Jettick shoes were advertised as being comfortable but stylish.  They came is a huge range of sizes:

I was pretty excited to find the advertising card above.  It dates to the early 1930s, and features a Glenn Curtiss Aerocar.  Curtiss is remembered most for his airplanes, but late in his life he turned to road transportation, and his contribution was the Aerocar, an upscale travel trailer.

Around 1930 Enna Jetticks ordered four of the Areocars, which were to be used as traveling showrooms.  The salesman would park the Areocar in front of the store where he was making his call, and for a short time people would be allowed in to oh and ah at the latest in modern transportation.

Most Aerocars had a straight back, but the ones made for Enna Jettick had an odd shape, resembling that of a blimp.  This was most likely intentional, because Enna Jettick had a bit of a theme going.  In other words, they also bought a blimp which was used as a promotional gimmick.

The Enna Jettick blimp is sometimes credited with making the only successful docking on the Empire State Building’s airship mooring platform, but one article I read says that the attempt was scrapped as it was too risky.  But the blimp was taken to towns that had a store where Enna Jettick shoes were sold, it would land, and would even take people for short rides.

I happen to have a pair of Enna Jettick’s in my collection, a pair of 1930s sports shoes.  The uppers are two colors of perforated leather, and the sole is an interesting rubber-like substance.  They are quite snappy!

The imprint on the sole reads “Enna Jettick Sport Shoes”.

Oh my, I’ve been playing with Vine.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Shoes, Sportswear

A Cautionary Tale – Patent Leather

This is a sad tale, and it is not pretty.

You might remember these shoes that I posted about a couple of weeks ago.  They were a gift from Monica Murgia.  When she sent these, she included a second pair, identical in styling, but differing in color.  They were black patent leather with cherry red leather ties, and unfortunately, they were ruined due to poor storage.

The shoes were stored in the original box, wrapped in what was most likely the original tissue.  And while I love finding things in the original packaging, it is usually not good for the item, especially when the item is made of a sensitive substance like patent leather.  Shoe boxes and most tissue contain acids which can cause a lot of damage to textiles and leathers.

It’s my guess that these were stored in an attic, causing the patent leather to heat up and become sticky.  The tissue then stuck to the leather finish.   It was not just a simple matter of washing the paper off, as it had actually disintegrated the finish of the shoes where the paper had come in contact with it.

As I said, it is a sad story, made sadder by the fact that these are such sweet shoes.  The maker, Andre Perugia, was one of the great shoemakers of the 20th century.  These were made for American firm, I. Miller, with whom Perugia had a long-standing relationship.

Okay, no more sad photos, but if you are a collector of shoes, you might want to read a post I did about a year ago on how I store my shoes.  I use acid-free boxes and I wrap the shoes in muslin.  I also support the interior of each shoe with muslin.

I tend to avoid materials – like patent leather and fur – that do not age well.   But if one collects antique and vintage fashions, it is almost impossible to collect only items that will not have age issues.  Silk shatters, leather molds, wool gets eaten by moth larvae.   It’s a real battlefield!

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Filed under Collecting, Designers

Ad Campaign – Moc-Abouts 1943

So soft they’re like putty in your hands; yet so sturdy that your kid brother couldn’t wear them out.  These impish moccasin-oxfords were styled by A.G. Spalding for Kay’s Newport… and they’re about the most wonderful shoes afoot.

I’m still in a moccasins sort of mind.  I was actually hopeful that I’d find an ad for my own Philflex Sporties, but I came up empty.  But one interesting observation from looking at dozens of shoe ads from 1938 through 1946 was that sport shoes like these were heavily advertised.  And note that the ad points out how these will be hard to wear out.   That was very important by 1943 when shoes were getting harder and harder to replace.

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Filed under Advertisements, Shoes

Philflex Sporties

It seems like it is so much harder to find vintage sport shoes in good condition than  it is to find lovely evening pumps or even nice dressy shoes.  Of course, it is easy to see why.  Most people wear their casual shoes much more often than they do evening shoes.   And even after casual shoes become very worn, they then become the yard work shoes or the gardening shoes.

When I ran across some late 1930s and 1940s shoes unworn and in the original boxes, I looked through them, expecting to find brown pumps in each box, and for the most part, I was right.  But then I found this pair of sporty two tone moccasins, a total surprise.

If you’ve ever had the privilege of talking about the war years with anyone who lived through and remembers the early 1940s, you would think that by the end of the war there were no leather shoes to be had at all.  But here I found about a dozen pairs, all unworn, and probably dead-stock from a store. Maybe all the women in town ran out of coupons, or  perhaps they were  odd sizes no one could wear.   Whatever the reason, I was happy to get this pair of survivors.

One might not expect to find sport shoes in a box labeled “Glamour Girl.”

But a look at the side told a more accurate story about the contents of the box.

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Filed under Shoes, Vintage Clothing