The S.B. Foot Tanning Company was first established along the banks of Trout Brook near Red Wing, Minnesota. Founded in 1872 by Silas B. Foot and George Sterling, the S.B. Foot Tanning Company has been a part of the Red Wing, Minnesota community for generations. It moved operations into its current location on Bench Street in 1908.
Silas Buck Foot
Silas Buck Foot (S.B.) was a farmer, inventor and shoemaker who left Pennsylvania in 1853, settling in Red Wing, Minnesota in 1857. Owner of a hand pump patent and a former general store owner, Silas operated several mercantile stores in Red Wing before a turn of events landed a large quantity of shoes at his feet. He immediately recognized the need for better quality shoes for local farmers and businessmen alike.
Partnering with a few local businessmen, the Foot, Schultz and Company business built and sold shoes and boots, crafting “shoe pacs” – a form of moccasin using deer furs with the hair left on – for local farmers to protect their feet from the harsh cold. These popular shoes sold almost as fast as they could make them – but getting good quality fur was a problem.
The solution was to build their own tannery and process the furs themselves. In 1872, the Trout Brook Tannery was built to serve this purpose. Foot split his time between the tannery in Red Wing and the Shoe Factory and General Store in St. Paul, riding trains nearly every day between the two cities.
In 1897, Foot became the sole owner of the tannery, incorporating the business as S.B. Foot & Company.
Continuing the Family Tradition
This focus on the tanning business became a family tradition. His son, Edwin Hawley Foot (E.H.) joined his father at the tannery and was instrumental in its continued successes. E.H. Foot began overseeing the company’s daily operations in 1898. When the factory became a liability and needed to be rebuilt to remain competitive, he convinced Silas to invest in a new factory in 1908. E.H. became the president and owner of the business that same year when Silas passed away.
In 1905, the tannery began to supply leather to a local “shoe jobber” named Charles Beckman. Charles had formed the Red Wing Shoe Company to make shoes and boots. Within a few years, the combination of quality leather and the craftsmanship of Red Wing Shoes would create a partnership that survives, unbroken, to this day.
E.H. worked hard to keep up with the changing economies and new needs of shoe makers. In WWI, the S.B. Foot & Company tannery was recognized as a “model for the leather industry.” E.H. himself said, “We must have made some pretty good leather, and naturally, we were called upon often to produce…to our fullest capacity for the duration of the war.”
S.B. Foot Tanning Company survived the Great Depression, maintaining its focus on the high quality production of leather. A reorganization of company assets and reincorporation was completed in the winter of 1932-33, when the company’s name was changed officially to S.B. Foot Tanning Company.
In 1957, 100 years after Silas had first arrived in Minnesota in search of a better way of life, his son E.H. Foot passed away and was succeeded by his son, Silas B. Foot II, who presided over the business until 1972. The business was then passed to E.H. Jr (S. B. Foot II’s brother) who in turn passed leadership of the business to Silas B. Foot III.
In 1986 Red Wing Shoes, itself a privately-owned company with over a century of family tradition and adherence to the principles of quality and functionality, acquired S.B. Foot Tanning Company. The tannery remains in operations, using updated techniques originally developed by Silas and E.H Foot. Many of our employees have years of history with the tannery, some with family connections that stretch back generations. S. B. Foot Tanning Company was and remains a family affair.
The traditions continue: learn more about the process we use to produce our leather.