The Australian History of
John Lobb (1829-95)
John Lobb became one of the most famous shoemakers in
the world. He was born in Cornwall, became an apprentice
bootmaker in London, before travelling to Australia to seek
his destiny as a gold prospector.
Instead he made his fortune developing an ingenious
hollow-heeled boot. Prospectors keen to hide their gold
bought them and John Lobb made his first fortune.
John Lobb Bootmaker
In 1858, he opened his first bespoke shoe shop
in George Street, Sydney. In 1862, he sent a pair
of his boots to the Great Exhibition in London
and won a gold medal for their quality. Twelve
months later he sent a pair of his riding boots to
the Prince of Wales and was awarded a Royal
In 1866, he moved back to London where he
quickly established " John Lobb, Bootmaker”
There he provided a bespoke service to the
aristocracy, as well as the political and business
The business continues to trade as the world's
most famous bespoke shoemaking
You can always tell a man by his shoes
In the Nineteenth century look was everything and the best
dressed men (Dandy’s) paid much attention to their
appearance. In Marcel Proust’s (1871 - 1922) book ‘A la
Recherche du temps perdu’ (In search of lost time), there is a
reference to a dandy having his expensive boots polished
Shoe cleaning was quite an art which required specific tools.
A stiff brush to remove mud & dust was essential as were
soft woollen rags or old woollen socks for applying polish;
and a soft brush and velvet pad of soft cloth for bringing up
the mirror shine. Separate brushes were kept for black and
coloured shoes. Shoe trees were used to store footwear in a
neat and orderly manner.
Footwear then, as now, was regarded as a mark of
social standing and boot and shoe maintenance
became very important to the fashion conscious.
Prior to improved water proofing wet leather was a
major problem and expensive leathers footwear needed
tender, loving care . Boots and shoes were treated with
Vaseline or Saddle soap. To soften hardened leather
sometimes lemon juice or olive oil were used.
Things improved in 1818, when patent leather (treated
with linseed oil) was developed and ensured dressier
Still the prerogative of the rich, it took until the end of
the 19th century when shoes and boots become more
affordable to the masses.
Kiwi Boot Polish
To ensure leather looked its best shoe polish
became an essential accessory and the world’s best
known shoe polish (Kiwi) was first made in
Melbourne Australia in 1906.
The polish was developed by William Ramsay
(Scotsman) who named it after the flightless bird
endemic to New Zealand. This was the home land
of his wife, Annie Elizabeth Meek Ramsay.
Kiwi shoe polish
Kiwi shoe polish was a fine blend of quality waxes
which protected and nourished leather as well as
giving the shoes a longer lasting glossy shine.
Initially it was sold to local farmers but eventually
caught on in the towns and cities. Shoe polish
gave both a shoe shine as well as preserving shoe
Later in 1908 the product incorporated agents
that added suppleness and water resistance to
World War One (1914 -18)
At the outbreak of World War I (1914) a
gigantic demand for army boots followed and
these needed to be polished easily, quickly,
and efficiently. Sales in boot polish rocketed
and very quickly Kiwi shoe polish became the
Commonwealth troops’ favorite. Kiwi Polish
was also adopted by the Americans as
Australian-made boot polish was then
considered the world's best.
Kiwi Shoe Polish
Doughboys took the marvelous boot
polish back to the states where it
became popular it soon started to be
manufactured in the States. By the
mid-twenties Kiwi polish was sold in
over 50 countries and became a
must have accessory for the
prevalent English style at the time.
Well polished boots
Even after hostilities in the Second World War, the benefits of
well-polished boots swung advantage in the minds of Japanese
“Pom Pom Girls” (teenage prostitutes) who during the Allied
occupation of the country preferred boys with a shine on their
As a commodity, Australian boot polish, became a prize black
market item. US soldiers returning home, took their Kiwi boot
polish with them.
A surge in sales followed and soon KIWI shoe polish was sold
in almost 200 countries around the world.
Chunder Loo of Akim Foo
The market for shoe polish was fiercely competitive with
many rival brands. Most used fictional figures or historical
characters to advertise their products. Cobra Boot Polish
was made in Sydney and advertised in The Sydney Bulletin
(1909 -1920). The cartoon character used was "Chunder
Loo of Akim Foo." (Chunder Loo was rhyming slang for and
spew or sick). Drawn by Norman Lindsay (later by his
brother Lionel Lindsay) the adverts usually had a short
poem which dealt with topical issues. As a result, the
adverts were very popular ensuring the Australian
colloquialism “chunder” became common vernacular.
Much later the term became forever associated with Barry
Humphries’ Australian abroad, character, Barry McKenzie
The adverts were very popular ensuring the
Australian colloquialism “chunder” became
Much later the term became forever
associated with Barry Humphries’ Australian
abroad, character, Barry McKenzie
Cherry Blossom Boot Polish was
launched in 1906. It sold well and the
‘fish plate’ metal opener was
introduced in 1924. This design
paved the way for the ‘press to open’
tin we still use today.
Shoe Shine Boys
Before the Depression, no bustling city
street in the US was complete without
fleets of shoe shine boys armed with their
homemade wooden shoeshine box,
cheap black and brown shoe polish and
old cotton rags.
Shoe Shinning parlours became
commonplace in CBDs all over North
America. They opened for business from
early in the morning until very late at
Rags to Riches
Shoe shining has become a modern
metaphor for ‘rags to riches’ and in
the past, many successful business
tycoons were given their first foot
hold on the corporate ladder, as shoe
sine boys . Notable luuminaries
include: Malcolm X, James Brown,
and Lee Trevino.
Fats Domino used a studio which could
only be accessed through a narrow
corridor which housed a shoe shine
The Fatman had to squeeze past to gain
entry which clearly influenced his
thinking and singing because he had
more hit songs about walking than any
The shoe polishing machine
It took until the mid 1960s ,
before a shoe polishing
machine with a shoe paste
dispenser was patented.
Many street children use shoe shining as
their only means of income but care is
always required because some are petty
criminals in disguise.
In many countries, street urchin shoe
shine boys are themselves pray to
extortion and need to bribe officials to
keep access to prime spots.
Many take loans from moneylenders to
pay contractors and become desperate to
There was once a furore in the West Australian Parliament
over the purchase of a shoe shine machine.
Parliamentarians needed to maintain a certain image or so
the story went and a shoe shine machine was purchased
and paid for with tax payer’s money.
The subject became the focus of much debate. The
culmination was one honourable member suggested all
parliamentarians, not in favour, should go barefooted to
Fitting gesture perhaps, but it would be highly unlikely the
honourable members would have been able to access
their seats. Such is the veracity of the anti-barefoot
campaign in Australia.
No bare feet
Over the past half century, bare feet have
become unwelcome in an increasing
number of privately own public accessed
Stereotypically associated with low socio-
economic groups going barefoot in
society has become stigmatised.
Many phantom laws are promulgated to
restrict access to the unshod but most of
these have a no statutory basis.