War Changes an Industry

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"Types Of Army Boots," 1911. Although this advertisement  says that “choice is practically unlimited,” this was not the case as the federal government pushed companies to standardize products during the war to maximize efficiency and production. Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

The demand for shoes skyrocketed during World War I with a new need to outfit soldiers. Some twenty-seven million pairs of shoes were delivered to the United States government between April 1917 and December 1918 alone. Despite the increased demand, revenue for the shoemaking industry was tempered. The American Industries Board controlled the price of materials to keep supply and production costs low, as well as the number of styles that could be produced, forcing companies to prioritize shoes for soldiers. Many shoemaking factories turned to producing other military wear, too, in order to capitalize on the government’s need for uniforms.

After the war, shoe companies returned to producing only footwear, flooding the American market with their products and driving prices down. Domestic shoemakers hoped that exportation to Europe after the war would find new demand for their abundance of products. Unfortunately, the exchange rate between the American dollar and European currencies was poor, and shipping nearly impossible. By the time these two factors had improved, the Europeans had re-established their own market and were leasing their own machines, reducing or eliminating the need for American imports.