Well-made work boots are treasured by the trades, and there are more options now than ever, but finding boots that aren’t imported can be a challenge—and finding boots made by a union shop is even harder.
There is one option, still, that provides Job-Fitted boots to working men and women—boots made in America by union workers: Thorogood.
The Weinbrenner Shoe Co., maker of Thorogood Shoes, that pioneered manufacturing innovation and led the industry in the development of purpose-built footwear is now owned by its workers and still making hand-crafted footwear in the heartland of America.
Thorogood traces its origins to 1855 when a cobbler, Peter Weinbrenner, renounced his German citizenship, immigrated to the United States, and set up a small shop in Milwaukee. Weinbrenner’s son Albert apprenticed in his father’s shop and expanded their small store into a much larger factory that specialized in shoes and boots designed for tradesmen.
After a few decades of steady growth, the Weinbrenner Shoe Co. hit its stride in 1892, and the Thorogood label soon followed. The rise of the American industrial revolution created a need for boots, and Thorogood provided exceptional craftsmanship and innovative manufacturing solutions to keep up with the demand.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Weinbrenner was making an average of 60 pairs of boots every day. By 1905, that number increased to 2,500. This growth continued, and in 1909 the company built a new 158,000 square foot factory.
This ability to deliver has always been at the forefront of Thorogood’s identity. When American soldiers stepped onto European soil in World War I, many were wearing Thorogood boots.
At home, the frenetic pace of expansion hardly slowed, and Thorogood answered that call too with the introduction in 1917 of Job-fitted boots—boots designed specifically for miners, farmers, railroad workers, foundry workers, oil well drillers, construction workers, and other trades.
By 1938, the Job-Fitted line included designs geared toward safety. These early efforts would redefine the way work boots were built, but the effort was interrupted by the more pressing concerns of a second world war. In 1942, Weinbrenner went all-in on the production of boots and shoes for the U.S. military.
Before the end of the war, Weinbrenner workers unionized under the United Food and Commercial Workers.
After WWII, the company resumed commercial sales, continued to pioneer protective footwear for American workers, and set its sights on the outdoor industry. Thorogood’s Official Boy Scout Boot was launched in 1968 and is still in their catalog today.
In 2001, Weinbrenner found another opportunity to serve the country. After the September 11 attacks, the company sent 500 pairs of work boots to Ground Zero to help keep rescue workers on their feet.
The Thorogood story has all the elements you’d expect from a feel-good history of American manufacturing. Many of those stories, though, end when jobs are outsourced or companies stagnate. Not Thorogood, and not Weinbrenner.
More than a century after the first Job-Fitted boots rolled off the line, Thorogood’s job-fitted boots are still handcrafted and inspected by union labor in the U.S. (members of UFCW Locals 1688 and 717). And the company continues to make occupational footwear for the trades, public safety, and the military.
“Our footwear is very specialized to meet specification requirements,” Thorogood President Jeff Burns said. “Whether they require a 90-degree heel, electric hazard resistance, slip-resistance or require footwear to be Berry Compliant (federal legislation that requires certain firms to purchase goods made in the USA), we design and manufacture high-quality footwear to meet these needs.”
“Whether you’re a soldier protecting our country, a first responder keeping our communities safe, or a tradesperson building America, we are committed to delivering footwear that works as hard as you do.”
Now Thorogood is helping to write part of the Union Sportsman’s Alliance story. Thorogood supports the USA’s Work Boots on the Ground conservation program as a National Conservation Partner and is the Official Boot Sponsor of the USA.
Together, Thorogood and the USA are building conservation projects, protecting the environment, creating opportunities for hunting and outdoor recreation, and passing on America’s great outdoor heritage.