One mark of great shoe craftsmanship is the Goodyear welt, a method of finishing shoes patented in 1896 by Christian Dancel for the Goodyear Shoe Machinery Company. Dancel trained as a mechanical engineer in Germany, and shortly after moving to New York City in the early 1860s had patented a sewing machine strong enough for shoe leather. Charles Goodyear Jr. (who is regularly and often mistakenly credited with inventing the Goodyear Welt) purchased the rights to Dancel’s machine and subsequently hired him as superintendent of his company’s factory. While at the Goodyear Shoe Machinery Company, Dancel also invented a machine for stitching the outsoles of shoes and later added guides for stitching welts to the same machine. Ultimately, he kept improving upon and combining the shoe stitching machines he had invented, and this is what came to be known as the Goodyear welting system. Even today, well over 100 years later, it’s still the sturdiest and most reliable way to finish a shoe or boot.
For those who don’t know, a welt is a long, thin strip of leather that’s used to sew the upper portion of a boot or shoe to the sole. During the process of welting a shoe, the welt is first sewn onto the upper and insole. After cork filler and a shank are added to the bottom of the insole for comfort and support, the welt is sewn either to the midsole or outsole of the shoe, depending on the model. In shoes that are welted at the midsole, the outsole is later attached with durable adhesive. If the welt is attached directly to the outsole, then the shoe is stitched together through the entire sole, from top to bottom, and the stiches are visible on the bottom of the shoe.
Again, depending on the shoe, Goodyear welts can either be sewn all the way around a shoe, or may only appear on a portion of the finished product. In the case of a heeled boot, the welt surrounds the sides and front of the boot and is sewn onto the outsole, but the heel is later nailed on.
We’re big fans of the Goodyear welt because it makes repairing and resoling boots so much easier. Red Wing boots should get more comfortable with age, but soles get worn down over time and need to be replaced. With this particular welt, Red Wing’s repair team can just remove the welt, pitch the worn soles, and easily add new soles to the original upper. Because let’s face it: after putting yourself through hell to break in your Red Wings, you should be able to wear them for the rest of your life.