In the postwar years of the last century, Red Wing Shoe Company introduced a 9-inch lace-up boot for sportsmen—bird and deer hunters who spent autumn days in the woods and marshes of North America. The boot called the Style No. 954, made use of leather tanned with the bark of sequoia trees that gave it a distinctive deep reddish-orange color known as “Oro Russet”. It was so similar to the coat of a certain breed of hunting dog that it was given the name, “Irish Setter”, in our 1950 catalog and it quickly became a popular boot.
In 1952, the Irish Setter evolved further, taking on a form that has come to be synonymous with Red Wing ever since. Retaining the distinctive moc toe of the 954, the new 8-inch Style No. 877 replaced its predecessor’s heel with a wedge sole made from a white crepe rubber that promised to be quiet underfoot in the woods. This sole had been used on shoes before but the No. 877 Irish Setter was the first to use it on a tall hunting boot. In addition to its benefits for the stalking hunter, its comfort also found favor on the job site and soon the Irish Setter was seen in the factories and on the scaffolds of a growing America.
Since the 1950s, the Irish Setter changed little from its origins. A 6-inch version and a few other colors were introduced, as well as some subtle new construction techniques but otherwise, it remained the same boot that was ceremonially presented to President Eisenhower in 1960. By the 1990s, the original No. 877 became simply known as the “Classic Work Boot”, while the Irish Setter name branched off for an entire family of hunting boots made by Red Wing.
A few years ago, we embarked on a project to recreate the iconic Irish Setter boot, as close to its original form as possible, for our Japanese market, where Red Wing has long enjoyed a loyal following. It was an ambitious undertaking. We dusted off old machines at our Minnesota factory, called in help from retired workers, and experimented with tanning methods that could recreate the original Oro Russet color but adhere to modern environmental practices. Finally, after three years, the boot made its debut. And now we’re bringing it back to the American market.
The new limited series Irish Setter appears as if out of a time machine from 1952. In addition to its matched color, which we’re now calling “Gold Russet Sequoia”, the boot has all the exacting details of its historic forebear. The “Red Wing” name is embossed on the inside quarter of the boot, the moc toe is finished with a distinctive rectangular bar-tack stitch, and the backstay chain-stitch is once again done on our ancient Puritan Stitch machine, which has its origins in the 1890s. We use the same mahogany and sage thread of the original, the top band is double-stitched, and the laces are leather instead of Taslan. All of these features are subtle differences from our standard No. 877 Classic Work Boot but they add up to an Irish Setter that is both unique and true to its name. Finally, to finish it off, we’ve added the traditional woven “Irish Setter” label inside the tongue and the boots come in a box that features the original logo and text from the 1950s.
While the limited series Irish Setter boots will no doubt be coveted by collectors who want a piece of history, these are Red Wing boots, after all, built for a lifetime of service. Like the faithful dog for which they’re named, they’ll come out of the box eager to head into the woods when the leaves start to fall in autumn, not afraid to get dirty. And we’d have it no other way.