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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Mukluks Were Born In Princeton Wisconsin

How many of you know what these are?  Most of us have worn them in our lifetime.  There are even photos of Judy Garland, Audrey Hepburn and President Eisenhower wearing them.


Give up?  They are called Mukluks.  What you probably don't know is that Mukluks originated in Princeton, Wisconsin.


In 1939, a woman named Martha Hiestand was making crocheted and knitted items for her family.  Many woman did that back in those days.  Heck, I still knit and crochet but it never turned into anything.  The difference was that Martha and her husband Ernest turned this hobby into a flourishing business.  Ernest was a traveling salesman.  He took some of the handmade items on the road and came back home with several orders.  Martha couldn't fill all the orders, so they hired some local women to help.  Their company was called "Handmade by Hiestand".  They had eleven employees between 1939 and 1940.  As the popularity grew, the demand for their product grew.  They ran the business from their house.   Soon they outgrew their home, and they moved to a building in downtown Princeton.  It was at this time they added durability to the socks by adding leather soles.  That is when the Mukluk was born.  It was hard to keep up with orders at this time, so they started purchasing pre-made wool socks and ready made soles.  The twenty five employees they now had would hand stitch and decorate the Mukluks. 


Between 1943 and 1950 this company grew to 400 employees.  They moved to an even larger location.  They purchased a few machines to stitch the leather but the soles would still be put on by hand.  A large majority of the work still took place in the employees homes.

I found some leather soles in my stash to make my own Mukluks some day.

The City of Princeton recently set up a museum to show the history of the Mukluk which is intended to help support the local downtown businesses.  Apparently after all these years, a few boxes of memorabilia were found in the basement of a local building.  Many of the items found are being shown in the museum.  Many family members of the Heistand's still live in the area.





The Hiestands eventually expanded into leather manufacturing and bought a company from Milwaukee called Gene Edwards.  That Gene Edwards building still stands in Princeton, but it is no longer in operation.   It still has many sock knitting machines and equipment in the building.  It is sad to see they are no longer in business.  The Mukluk is still being made.  The brand was sold to a company called the "Reliable in Milwaukee".  I imagine there are many copy cat companies making this product now, but no matter what the name is, they are probably referred to as "Mukluk's".

*It was pointed out to me that the Hiestand's probably didn't invent the original Mukluk.  That was footwear created by American and Canadian native Indians.  Many museums have articles of clothing and footwear from the 1800's, and there are many pairs of beaded mukluks there.  They were made out of animal skin and fur.  I believe these were the first knitted Mukluks, and they probably borrowed the name for their marketing purposes.