The Historical Text Archive: Electronic History Resources, online since 1990 Bringing you digitized history, primary and secondary sources




Shoes

The shoe was actually a by-product of the sandal. Shoes were developed based on the needs of the wearer. Environmental factors in particular effected the development. As you can imagine an Eskimo would not be able to wear sandals, so they developed shoes and then boots to protect their feet from the bitter cold and frostbite which could cause infections in the feet and eventually gangrene, then death.

Shoes have always been a functional piece of clothing. However, some examples of early shoes were more for vanity than purpose. A good example of this can be seen in the cracowes type of shoes which were developed in medieval times, unfortunately due to their long pointed design it could be difficult to walk in them. (If you are watching a movie about medieval times look for the pointed shoes wore by the court jester.) As a result the cracowes type of shoe was soon replaced by the Duckbill type of shoes. Duckbill shoes can be seen in pictures of the first Pilgrims.

One of the largest groups to develop the shoe has been the military. In the middle of the 17th century Army commanders started to pay much closer attention to their soldier's feet - or dogs as we called them. The development of shoes for the military really gained momentum as the ability to make long-lasting heels was developed. Prior to this soldiers basically wore the equivalent of slippers or sandals. From personal experience I can tell you there is nothing worse than marching fifteen plus miles with bad shoes. Your feet are turned into a mass of blisters. As you can imagine many soldiers were sidelined due to feet infections and blisters.

This poor level of preparedness lasted all the way through World War One, with soldiers in the civil war using rags and bark to wrap their feet and protect them. There is also the well know case of Washington's men marching to Valley Forge barefoot in the snow.

The next time you buy a new pair of shoes remember they have a rich history.

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