Information about the Wellington Boot, history and style

The Hunter Wellington Rubber Boot Company

The Wellington boot first made its appearance in the year 1817. At that time men's fashion was going through a major overhaul, as men everywhere discarded their uncomfortable knee length breeches in favor of the more easily managed and less embarrassing trousers or pants. Naturally, this created a problem regarding comfortable footwear. The overwhelmingly popular Hessian boot, worn with the previously popularized short men's breeches, was equipped with a buccaneer style turned down top and featured a heavy braid and were generally unsuited for wearing under full length trousers or pants.

Due to this level of discomfort and the desire for a more easily worn boot, Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, asked of his cobbler, Hoby of St. James Street, to make some basic modifications to the boot design. The boot that the cobbler manufactured was soft calfskin and featured no trim and was cut tight to the leg, allowing the trousers to easily be pulled over the boots. The resulting boot was durable on the battlefield, as well as comfortable in the posg surroundings that the duke frequently found himself dining in as the evening came. This versatility was of great import to the duke of Wellington, as he had little time for affectations and dalliance with the affairs of wardrobe. The boot was immediately called the Wellington and has retained the name to this day.

The Wellington style boots quickly caught on with the patriotic British youth eager to emulate the hero or Waterloo. Thought to be fashionable in the right social circles, Wellingtons continued to be the most popular fashion for men all through the 1840's. In the 1950's they were more commonly seen in the calf high version and later on in the 1960's they were both replaced by the ankle boot, except for the occasion of horse back riding. The popularity of the boot and it's rabidly devoted followers were something of a social and commercial phenomenon of the times, owing generally to the popularity of the duke of Wellington.

The Wellington boots were traditionally made of leather, as most boots were in those days, but in the new world, experiments and new methods of manufacturing were being implemented, and shoemakers were working with rubber and vulcanized rubber products. Henry Lee Norris, an American entrepreneur, relocated to Scotland in search of a suitable facility for the production of rubber footwear. This was the first beginnings of the Hunter Wellington story, a modest beginning of a design for a waterproof boot, conceived in a Scottish hamlet called Edinburgh.

The secret to Hunter's success was that he capitalized on the process of vulcanization, recently patented in England. But no such patent existed in Scotland, where Hunter proposed to patent the process and manufacture rubber Wellington boots. Hunter purchased the Castle Silk Mills in Edinburgh, an entire block of buildings, and registered the North British Rubber Company in the year 1856. He then hired four men from New York and loaded the manufacturing equipment and the men onto an oceangoing vessel and imported them to Scotland. These men would naturally teach others the craft of rubber vulcanization and boot manufacturing, and then the newly instructed would teach others and so on.