In the footsteps of Charles Beckman

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When Charles Beckman finished the first pair of Red Wing shoes, he stepped back and took a long hard look at them. It was September 1, 1905 and Charles had come a long way. As a German immigrant, he had always strongly believed in the American dream. He had just managed to perfect and produce the image that had been stuck in his mind for years; a workingman’s boot that was not only sturdy, but also comfortable to wear. Charles decided to sell this new and improved boot for the humble price of one dollar and seventy-five cents. The Red Wing Shoes Company had become a fact. Only two years later, the company produced over 100 pairs of shoes per day. Charles Beckman’s dream has since grown steadily into a company that delivers high quality boots to people all over the world.

CharlesBeckman2_blogIt was Beckman’s perseverance and determination that helped him thrive in an exciting but simultaneously rough and rugged new era. With the rise of industrial activities in and around the town of Red Wing, Beckman recognized a growing need in his community for durable, high quality work boots. As the owner of a shoe store he wanted to provide his customers with shoes that fit them perfectly. But his dependence on his suppliers meant he didn’t always have men’s shoes in the right sizes. So he started toying around with the idea of producing his own footwear.

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New | Iron Ranger Style No.8119

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8119_LS_smRe-introduced in 2008, the iconic Iron Ranger boot has been a mainstay since its debut. Modeled after boots Red Wing Shoes designed for Minnesota iron workers in the early 1900s, the Iron Ranger continues to soar in popularity today. Today we launch a new version of the Iron Ranger, equipped with a 430 Vibram outsole. This new Iron Ranger style is the first in the line with a lug outsole. The rubber outsole provides grip and traction while maintaining the sleek, sharp look of a traditional Iron Ranger boot.

Mining on the Iron Range was a dangerous job full of hazards and the brave workers who took these jobs required extra protection on their feet. To meet the demands of this type of work, Red Wing Shoes designed a boot with a capped toe that was double layered with leather. The heel pocket, an extra strip of leather that supports the heel inside the boot, was moved to the outside of the boot for added stability. These design changes provided a seamless boot interior and added durability to the exterior of the boot; necessities for workers on their feet all day in the harsh conditions of the mines.

The 8119 features premium Oxblood leather, tanned in Red Wing Shoes own Minnesota tannery. Equipped with bronze speed hooks and eyelets, this 6-inch boot is built in the company’s Red Wing, Minnesota, factory with Goodyear welt and triple-stitch construction.

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Faces of Red Wing | Forrest Wozniak

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Forrest_6We see them every day, but don’t take note of them. A product of 150 years of American history, hand-painted signs are a natural part of the American streetscapes. But what was once a common trade has now become a highly specialized craft competing with modern technology. We met with Forrest Wozniak – a carpenter and mason turned sign painter – to talk about his mission to preserve American craftsmanship. 

Forrest, how does a carpenter turn into a sign painter?
In my twenties, my friends and I hitchhiked through the USA on freight trains. These trips were low budget adventures. It was in Olympia, Washington that we started painting on rusty objects for fun, but it soon became obvious that we’d be able to actually make a viable living with this if we’d make it more available to the general public. Painting signs was the obvious next step. The thing is… you can’t travel the country as a carpenter the same way you can as a sign painter. You can travel with your toolbox – with your primaries, your blacks and whites, and a couple of brushes – and you could be in Idaho and still have a way to pay for gasoline and food.

So you‘re an autodidact?
I come from a generation in which vocations weren’t really taught. In those days, we had no actual knowledge and just played around with sign painting. What we did was fundamentally unsound. Things changed when I met Phil Vandervaart, an old-timer in the sign-painting industry. He was to be my oracle, the wise man in the cave, who helped channel my understanding of sign painting from a fundamental knowledge perspective. Phil himself was trained in the 60’s, when there were outlets to really learn the trade. He passed on his knowledge to me. In return, I brought a youthful spirit and drive to the table. We started working together on and off, and still do today. It’s been 14 years now.

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Rugged boots for a rugged country

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Alyssa Larson and Brody Leven traveled to Iceland to explore its vast nature and to ski down some of the most pristine mountain peaks. Following the country’s 1300 km long Ring Road for seven weeks, they took the ‘off the beaten path’ whenever they saw an opportunity. It led them to discover some of the most untouched areas of magical Iceland: isolated beaches, volcanic highlands and massive glaciers. In need of a warm, dry, and tough pair of boots, they each brought a pair of Red Wing Heritage 8146s.
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The Beauty of the Beast – The Puritan Stitch Machine

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Puritan_2Across the factory floor in Plant 2, a staccato hammering is heard before it is seen. Approaching the cacophony one finds the curved leather-clad back of an archaic contraption that looks a little bit like an armored medieval warhorse. This is the Puritan Stitch machine, so named for its original builder, Puritan Manufacturing of Boston, Massachusetts. This place of origin is proudly displayed on the only bit of adornment on the entire machine, an engraved brass plaque that also shows the date of its patent: January 31st, 1893. During normal operation, this plaque is hidden away behind the fitted leather cover that reduces the sound of the machine and protects its operator from sharp edges and moving parts.

It’s just as well that the mechanics of the Puritan Stitch machine are hidden away; the machine itself is not much to behold. Its heavy metal frame is a dull gray and its necessary lubrication leaves an oily film that collects dust. But observing it running in the hands of a skilled operator is where its beauty lies. She feeds a set of leather panels under its heavy sewing head and three massive needles fuse them together with a triple stitch. This signature triple row of stitches is what holds the front and back sections of a boot together and what makes a Red Wing boot so hard wearing and long lasting. It’s been done this way since the early 1900s with this very same machine. And until a better machine comes along, it will continue to be done this way, we think, for a long, long time. Puritan_3Puritan_1

Listen to those who work with these machines as they explain how they work, and why we keep using them in this video.

Faces of Red Wing – Chuck Ragan

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We met up with music-industry veteran Chuck Ragan during his Europe tour with his band The Camaraderie. With over twenty-five years of experience, he has done it all: from raw punk to love-tinged folk music. Nevertheless, the artist remains hungry: ‘I never want to write the same record twice. What’s the point in that?’

You say writing music is a form of therapy; to rebel, speak your mind…
I write in different forms; some of it is storytelling, some of it is about something that happened, or something I read in a book or paper. There are so many aspects of songwriting I transfer into music. Having the freedom and opportunity to write about it is the beauty of making music. Read more »

The Policeman – Style no.9197

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9197_1_smIn the 1950s policemen still walked their beats and the postman walked his mail route. They needed comfortable and sturdy footwear for the hours spent on their feet. Red Wing Shoes responded with style nos.101 and 102, better known as the Postman and the Policeman.
The Cushion Crepe sole helped to keep their feet comfortable as they patrolled their beats. The outsole had a slip resistant function, a requirement for shoes worn on duty. This year, we introduce style no. 9197, modeled after no.102. And as a proof, the registered Slip Resistant/USA label is legitimately part of the boot.

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A glimpse into the past

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We returned to our archives to find these photographs of hardworking men at the S.B. Foot Tannery. It is the main leather supplier for Red Wing Shoes and has been a proud member of our community since 1872. Taken by local Red Wing, Minn. photographer Richard Gard in the 1950s, these photos capture true dedication to the honest craft of quality leather making.

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Stepping Into History | New Boots Made With Old Machines #1

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With a satisfying clunk, ten nails are driven home deep into the heel of an Iron Ranger boot. The operator deftly slides the boot out and in a single motion, pulls the lever that draws the next ten nails down their tracks into position. He slides a new boot into the machine and with another clunk, yet another pair of Iron Rangers is brought to heel. This process will repeat itself all day long as hundreds of pairs of boots march towards completion. It is a process that has remained the same for the past eight decades and through several generations of Red Wing bootmakers. Read more »