The History of Wolverine: 1000 Mile Boots, Americana Aesthetic and More

Wolverine has been a pioneer since its humble origins in the late 1800s. The brand, born in Rockford, Mich., was propelled to global success by embracing innovation at every turn. Beginning with perfecting a process in its tannery that produced soft, pliable leather, Wolverine produced incredibly durable shoes that outperformed the competition.

As it found its niche in the work boot space, Wolverine continually pushed to improve the performance of its footwear to keep its customers comfortable and protected on the job site. Alongside its core business, the brand also has garnered a following among people looking for everyday lifestyle styles. Honoring its heritage, Wolverine’s popular 1000 Mile collection offers footwear that is inspired by archival patterns and highlights old-world craftsmanship and attention to detail.

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Wolverine, 1000 Mile Boot, 140th Anniversary, boots, mens boots
Wolverine’s 140th Anniversary 1000 Mile Boot. Daniel K Van Duinen

An American Dream

Wolverine’s story began in 1883 when entrepreneur G.A. Krause started a small leather tannery in Michigan, and staffed it with a team of workers. Fulfilling the needs of that time, the fledging company produced work boots and gloves.

In 1901, Krause brought electricity to the city of Rockford, where he planted a new shoe factory that was soon cranking out 300 pairs a day. Six years later, the businessman — who by that point had been joined by his sons — established the Wolverine tannery, giving the factory a direct supply of durable, yet pliable shell horsehides for its shoes.

In 1914, the Krauses introduced what would eventually become an iconic product — the 1000 Mile boot, whose name was inspired by its long-lasting wear. Over the next several years, Wolverine grew into a household name, with the help of a national sales force (a novel concept at that time) and a national ad campaign.

Roaring Twenties

By 1921, business was booming, prompting the company to change its name to the Wolverine shoe and Tanning Co. In 1928, employees were invited to buy shares in the company in one of the country’s first profit-sharing plans.

After weathering some lean years during the Great Depression, Wolverine rebounded in the 1940s. The company supplied pigskin gloves for the U.S. Navy during World War II, and later — following the Allied victory — decided to go all in on pigskin as horses had become scarce. A newly built factory in Rockford began producing what became known as pigskin suede, and G.A.’s son Victor had the idea to use the material to make soft suede casual shoes.

Wolverine 1000 Mile x Dragon’s Milk boot
The Wolverine 1000 Mile x Dragon’s Milk boot.Rudy Malmquist/Courtesy of Wolverine Worldwide

Dog Days

In 1958, the Hush Puppies brand was born, taking its unique name from the treats that Southerners gave their dogs to calm their barking. Before long, an estimated one in 10 American adults owned a pair of the suede shoes.

In a testament to its success, the company — now renamed Wolverine Worldwide Inc. — made its debut on the New York Stock Exchange in 1965.

Acquisition Mode

Building on the success of its Wolverine and Hush Puppies brands, the company sought out new opportunities. In 1994, it debuted a Cat footwear line under a licensing agreement with construction equipment giant Caterpillar.

Wolverine added the Merrell outdoor brand to its portfolio in 1997, which was followed one year later by a licensing deal with Harley-Davidson. In 2003, the company acquired Sebago, known for its classic boat shoes, but later sold the brand in 2017. In 2006, Wolverine inked a footwear licensing deal with Patagonia. Chaco also joined the company’s roster in 2009 as a new acquisition.

Wolverine snapped up Collective Brands’ Performance + Lifestyle Group in 2012, a move that beefed up its brand roster with Saucony, Stride Rite and other major names.

Boots from Wolverine’s 1,000 Mile Collection
Boots from Wolverine’s 1,000 Mile CollectionWolverine

Reviving an Original

In 2009, Wolverine brought back its classic 1000 Mile boot in a bid to capture a share of the demand for casual footwear with an Americana aesthetic. To celebrate the boot’s 140th anniversary in 2023, the brand introduced a special-edition 1000 Mile style made from Horween leather and featuring a vintage Wolverine label on the tongue.

In recent years, Wolverine has also continued its dominance in the work category, trumpeting the slogan, “We’re not good because we’re old; we’re good because we’ve stayed good,” to underscore its longevity and history of performance innovations and quality craftsmanship.

To support its customer base, the brand created Project Bootstrap, an initiative that advocates for skilled trades and aims to inspire and nurture the next generation of tradespeople.

Who Owns Wolverine?

Wolverine remains under the Wolverine Worldwide Inc. banner. Today, the publicly traded company, still headquartered in Rockford, also owns Bates, Chaco, Saucony, Sweaty Betty, Merrell, Hush Puppies, Hytest, Soft Style, Wolverine Leathers and the Stride Rite Children’s Group.

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