In honor of our county’s 200th birthday, The Gasconade County Historical Society will be publishing an article each month about the history, events and/or stories of our county. We hope you enjoy them.
IF THE SHOE FITS, WEAR IT
In 1903 a few local citizens of Hermann went together to form a shoe manufacturing company. Though the operation was unsuccessful, it marked the beginning of the shoe industry in Gasconade County that proved to be the economic backbone of our county for almost a century. In 1904 the local factory was bought by the Peters Shoe Co. of St. Louis. By 1923 the company employed about 400 workers under the name of the International Shoe Co. which was formed by the merger of the Peters Shoe Co. and the Roberts, Johnson & Rand Shoe Co. In 1962 the company built a new $360,000 plant (later becoming the Forsheim Shoe Co.) that employed about 500 workers. The new facility was described as the most modern shoe plant in the word.
After the Forsheim closing, the building was occupied by the Stevens Toy Co. until the flood of 1993 when the building was severely damaged by flood water. Later the building was leveled and the location became the Clara Eitmann Messmer amphitheater.
For a short time in the 1940’s Rosebud entertained a shoe factory that produced the Foot Pleasure line of shoes. In 1947 they paid common labor .60 per hour and skilled laborers .75 per hour.
The International Shoe Co. opened a factory in Bland in the 1920’s that remained an integral part of that community for many years. The Bland Courier reported that International Shoe had paid an annual payroll of $778,380 in the year 1962. In 1947 Gasconade County was home to 7 separate shoe factories.
Owensville began their relationship with the shoe industry in the early twentieth century with the Reyburn Shoe Co. and Hamilton-Brown Shoe Co. Hamilton-Brown built the brick building now occupied by Rath, Inc. (formerly Emhart Glass). The residential neighborhood behind the factory building was named, and is still called, Hambro for the HAMilton-BROwn factory. Through the years the shoe industry came and went in the city limits of Owensville with such names as Carmo Shoe, Collins-Morris Shoe Co., Deb Shoes and Brown Shoe Co. In 1962 Brown Shoe had outgrown their old facility and built a new factory on Hwy. 28 in Owensville.
With cheap overseas labor and high leather prices, the shoe industry went the way of many manufacturing entities and moved their operations out of the country. In 1992 the last shoe factory in Gasconade County closed, but for almost 100 years the shoe factories in the county paid the bills, made vacations possible and sent kids to school as well as helping to finance the workings of our towns and county.