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Florsheim Shoes

Lawrence Bush
July 26, 2017

Milton Florsheim, a Chicago cobbler who transformed the shoe industry by slapping the family name on his shoe soles and pull-up straps and then launching a chain of brand-name retail stores, was born in Chicago on this date in 1868. His father owned a shoe store. Florsheim Shoes were marketed, says his great-grandson John Florsheim, as “the aspirational shoe for the average guy.” This became “a message that took hold in small towns nationwide,” writes Ron Stodghill in the New York Times. “By the mid-1920s, before the Great Depression crippled the company, Florsheim boasted 2,500 employees, 5 factories, 71 retail outlets, 9,000 dealers and a network of regional wholesale distributors. Milton’s sons, Irving and Harold, helped to keep the company afloat during the Depression and later steered it back onto solid financial ground.” The company went bankrupt in 2001 after fifty years of outside ownership, but in the following year Milton Florsheim’s grandson and great-grandsons bought back control of the company and made a success of it as a “heritage brand.” Florsheim was active within the American Jewish Committee and other social justice and philanthropic ventures. He died at 68.

“We are at a time and place when resurrecting brands is at an all-time high — what was once old and obsolete is now new again. The question is whether the brand can truly step out of its comfort zone to push the envelope with a younger generation.” --Marshal Cohen

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.