Forges to Factories: A Timeline of Work Shoes [Infographic]

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Can you imagine strapping a pair of wooden soles to your feet with animal hide before heading to work? That’s exactly what 15th century English workers did before firing up their forges to hammer iron. And before that, the ancient Aztecs harvested rubber to make the first prototypical sneaker. Work shoes have changed significantly over the centuries – some are barely recognizable compared to today’s modern slip-resistant footwear. However, workers have always needed to protect their feet, from ancient spark-filled blacksmith forges to high-tech machine shops. Would you give up your pair of comfortable work shoes for one of the prototypes below?

Animal hides and plants

Until relatively recently, most work shoes were made from plant materials and animal hides. In ancient Egypt, workers wore sandals sewn from halfa grass. Weavers would construct the soles out of coiled bunches to provide a bit of comfort, then a piece of papyrus was used to keep the sole in place. Later, workers in the Roman Empire would wrap a piece of tanned animal hide to their feet. Native American moccasins were similar, though painted with intricate designs using plant dye. The ancient Aztecs probably had the closest thing to a modern work shoe, because theirs were made from rubber. Meanwhile, the English used carved wooden soles with dyed-leather fastenings.

Leather boots

Sometime in the 19th century, military fashion became all the rage. Work shoes for men resembled the boots of German army officers. Some even had pointed toes and tassels. The look even made it to the U.S., where cowboys adopted a modified version of the style. Later, horsehide engineer boots with long laces and lots of buckles became top-of-the-line footwear for working in tough conditions.

Slip-resistant work shoes

Nowadays, work shoes for women and men come in all shapes and sizes. Those in the health care and food service industries can wear comfortable, stylish shoes with slip-resistant soles. Workers who deal with hazardous environments can get the whole package with shoes that have slip-resistant soles, composite toes and electrical resistance. Work shoes really have come a long way.

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