Introduced in 1936, Red Wing Shoes’ popular no. 668 was marketed as “The Bird Shooter’s Boot.” The 668 debuted as one of the company’s first hunting boots and quickly became a boot of choice for long days outdoors. Over time, the 668 would eventually evolve into Red Wing’s iconic style no. 877. Red Wing Heritage is re-imaging the 668 for our company’s 110-year anniversary with the introduction of ‘the Huntsman’. Inspired by our early hunt boot designs, the Huntsman is an 8-inch lace-up leather boot built with Black Klondike leather and the same Gro-Cord sole material as the original 668. This rubber sole was an innovation at a time in which leather soles were commonplace. The Gro-Cord sole allowed sportsmen to move silently in the field. Featuring gunmetal eyelets, rawhide leather laces and the 668’s signature sole, The Huntsman pays high respects to Red Wing Shoe Company’s sportsman heritage.
Just because we’ve been making shoes and boots since 1905 doesn’t mean we can’t change our ways every now and then. After all, you don’t last as long as we have if you don’t improve. One area in which we’ve made some changes is in our leather cutting department. For most of our history, the individual pieces of Red Wing leather that make up a boot are cut out using metal templates and a pressure stamping machine. A worker eyes up a leather hide and figures out the most efficient way to get the most pieces out of it with minimal waste, while avoiding the blemished and imperfect sections. It’s a method that’s worked well since the beginnings. While many steps in our process of boot-making can’t be done by machines, at Red Wing Shoe Company we also try to embrace technology when contributing to the quality of the process or footwear.
The Comelz machine is a computer-guided leather cutting machine that we use for some of our types of boots. With a template of all the pieces needed for a particular size and type of boot, the machine helps a worker line up the optimum arrangement of cuts that will maximize the hide and minimize waste. Lighted shapes dance on the leather surface as the worker moves them around, locking in his choices with the click of a button. When the hide has been digitally marked, it slides into the cutter and two precision heads descend and cut out the pieces needed, leaving only a thin web of scrap leather. This process takes advantage of technology while still relying on the human element that has been our trademark for over a century. Using the Comelz leather cutting machine has resulted in less waste and faster production, which goes to show that sometimes to make a process better, cutting corners can be a good thing.
We like to think Red Wing boots are a good value due to their durability and our promise to refurbish them as often as you wear them out. But in the 1960s, at some Red Wing retailers, they were an even better value, especially if you were bold enough to step on a scale. As part of a campaign called, “A Penny a Pound”, certain styles of Red Wings cost as much as your body weight, in pennies. Weigh 150 pounds? That’s a pair of boots for $1.50. Being light on your feet meant your Red Wing boots were light on your wallet too.
“I was working with a woodsman when I was younger and I saw him cut his own finger off”. Mark explains whilst holding an instrument far more than capable of a similar occurrence. The London Log Company are a loose collective of individuals scattered through the city to the rolling countryside. Established in 2006 they’re an independent British company that provides wood and charcoal to the industries in the UK. They make the largest range of single species charcoals in Europe. Their central residence is a small two-door workshop in South East London, filled with paper and hessian sacks of different types of wood and boxes full of charcoal. Apple wood, English Plum and Oak to name just a few, all ticketed and labeled from origin to its then concluding destination.
We were lucky enough to get invited to their yard in Hertfordshire with company owner Mark, a visual array of old machinery, tools, burners and of course wood. A workman’s playground and photographers paradise, here is where much of the charcoal is made and a huge portion of wood is stored. Magnificent chaotic hills of used wood and chippings, ‘jenga’ like stacks of oak and silver birch glisten, towering over us as we make our way round what used to be a functioning pig farm. Lewis, who manages production on the site is maneuvering charcoal from the retort in an old pick up and sealing bags ready for the road as we gaze in awe at his effortless workmanship. The retort is a double-barreled steel oxygen-less sealed flask where the volatile elements are driven off by heat, leaving a high grade fixed carbon charcoal. “Part science, part alchemy and a lot of craft.”
After our successful introduction of the Red Wing Blacksmith collection occurred in 2014, we have now added style no.2955 to our collection. The Black Spitfire leather, tanned at Red Wing Shoe Company’s tannery in Minnesota, is a heavily waxed Roughout leather. The combination of wax and the reversed suede Roughout leather guarantees a beautiful worn look on the boot over time. The 2955 is equipped with a Vibram 430 outsole, providing optimal grip and cushion in slippery conditions, as well as classic bronze eyelets and speed hooks.
The Blacksmith can truly be considered the classic American work shoe. In the early 1900s, when Red Wing Shoe Company first began to service rural America, this style of shoe became vastly popular across the country. Versatile and reliable, it was used in farm fields and blacksmith workshops during the day before being cleaned and shined up for a night out on the town. It was the all-purpose shoe for many
years in many industries.
Nothing makes us more proud than hearing stories about the adventures people experienced in their Red Wings. Burkhard came across Red Wing boots for the first time during an adventure of a lifetime.
“The year was 1967 and my father had sent me off to work as a deck hand on a freight ship. The route had taken us to New York City. Thanks to a breakdown, we were stranded there for two weeks waiting for the ship to be repaired. 15 years young and driven by a thirst for adventure, I read Ernest Hemingway and learned about what he considered to be the ultimate traveling gear. I decided to search for the items needed for this ‘Hemingway travel pack’ in downtown Manhattan. Apart from a much longed for Filson bag, I ended up buying my first pair of Red Wings in a small store on 16th Street.
I bought the American made boots not knowing that only two weeks later they would save my feet from being maimed. While I was scrubbing the deck, the brake on a massive pulley lining up a 40mm thick steel cable came loose and went zipping past my feet, tearing apart the entire left side of my boot. Within seconds, the steel splinters on the cable had shredded the leather open, but the leather boots’ robustness had spared my feet a similar fate.
Following tradition, I honored my Red Wing work boots by giving them a seaman’s funeral. They are now at rest at the bottom of the Atlantic near Greenland, not far from the place where the Titanic sunk.”
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.
It 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.
Re-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.
We 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.