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Texas Agriculture Archive

January 2, 2004

Justin Boot-Making
125 Years of Quality


H.J. "Joe" Justin headed to Texas in 1877 and made his fortune in the boot business.
 

2004 marks Justin Boot Company's 125th anniversary, and a year-long celebration, beginning January 22, of its legacy as a premier maker of quality boots.

"We want to honor the Justin legacy and the commitment to the western industry and lifestyle of Justin," said Randy Watson, president and CEO. "Justin Boot Company's place in America's western heritage is unrivaled."

More than 1,000 guests are expected to attend the anniversary celebration at the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth, including Cowtown dignitaries, Justin family descendants and celebrity endorsees.

Festivities include a rodeo with bareback riding, celebrity team roping, barrel racing, chuck wagon racing, bull riding and other specialty acts. Live entertainment will follow the rodeo, provided by Asleep at the Wheel.

Highlighting the 2004 celebration is Justin's "Walk in Our Boots" anniversary tour, which will showcase real boot-makers demonstrating the boot-making process, as well as a display of boots from the last 125 years and other historical memorabilia.

The tour will hit the road in January in Dallas and travel to Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Chicago, ending in New York City.

Justin Boot Company® will also introduce a limited edition anniversary boot that features the anniversary logo embroidered in red, black and white stitching on the upper part of the boot with red Texas star inlays around a white collar. Made of black Italian Kangaroo, the boot will feature the popular J-Flex comfort. Justin will also make a version available in their signature Roper style. These will be available to consumers at participating Western stores in 2004.

Humble Beginnings

Heeding the call of Horace Greeley to "Go West, Young Man," H.J. "Joe" Justin left his home state of Indiana and headed to Texas in 1877. After spending two years in Gainesville, he hitched a ride to Spanish Fort, Texas. A booming Chisholm Trail town located on the Red River, Spanish Fort catered to cowpunchers driving herds of Longhorns to market. Hoping to hone his skills as a cobbler's apprentice, Justin was eager to begin his new trade.

Having only 25 cents to his name, he first had to find a job to buy food and pay for a bath and shave. As luck would have it, Justin found employment immediately with the local barber, Frank See, who hired him to sweep floors, heat water and empty the spittoons. After two weeks, a cowboy sauntered into the barbershop and when Justin noticed the severely dilapidated condition of the man's boots, he offered to patch them up as good as new.

Word quickly spread among the cowboys about the young man at the barbershop who could patch boots. Not content with patching boots, Justin wanted to make boots but didn't have the financial resources to purchase the required leather. Sharing his woes with his employer, See loaned Justin $35. Within the next week, See was wearing the first pair of boots made by H.J. Justin, for a cost of $9. Once again, word quickly spread all along the Chisholm Trail about Justin's sturdy, custom-fit boots. Within his first year of business, Justin sold $1,000 worth of boots priced at $8.50 a pair—the equivalent of one week's pay for the average cowboy.

The boots crafted by Justin were made to meet the demands of the cowboys who wore them. They were custom-made to fit comfortably — tight fitting to provide sure footing; leather tops to protect against rattlesnake bites, cactus, brush and the elements; and, a high heel for the stirrup that was favored among cowboys.

Justin also was one of the early innovators of decorative stitching. Until that time, most boots were made of black leather. Justin incorporated rows of stitching across the boot tops as a means of stiffening the leather, thus preventing it from folding around the ankles.

In the Family Footsteps

In 1887, Justin married Miss Louanna "Annie" Allen—who proved to be an able helper in her husband's booming boot-making business. In fact, she helped Justin design a revolutionary self-measuring kit that made it possible for customers nationwide to order Justin Boots by mail.

During their early years of marriage, the Justin's had seven children—three sons and four daughters—who all helped with the family business.

In fact, in 1908, Justin informed his two oldest sons, John and Earl, that they would become equal partners in the business, and changed the name of his boot company to "H.J. Justin & Sons." Likewise, he lured his younger brother William, from Indiana, to come work for him. Years later, William's son, Vane, became an expert fancy top stitcher, and his brother Bill became one of its outstanding salesmen.

Fort Worth Landmark

After the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway decided to bypass Spanish Fort, the Justin's relocated to Nocona, Texas and stayed there for nearly 40 years. Having outgrown their Nocona location, in 1925, the Justin's moved the family business to Fort Worth, expecting to have better banking facilities, better freight facilities and a better chance for labor. Just like Justin Boots, the move was a perfect fit.

In 1950, John Justin, Jr., took over Justin Boot Company by buying out the stock owned by his two uncles, giving him personal control of the company. On Nov. 3, 1950, he became vice president and general manager of H.J. Justin & Sons, Inc. and went on to further build the company's brands and reputation in the business. The company later merged with Acme Brick Company and, in 1972, changed its name to Justin Industries, Inc.

In 1999, John Justin, Jr. stepped down from his role as chairman of the board of Justin Industries, and in 2000 the board of directors for Justin Industries approved the sale of the company to Warren Buffett and Berkshire-Hathaway.

While Justin has grown considerably since the early days, the same principals that the company was founded on remain. Justin Boot Company still holds true to the dedication put forth by founder H.J. Justin. "No boot shall ever bear the Justin brand unless it is the very best that can be produced from the standpoint of material, style and workmanship. It is my wish that I might leave behind me an institution which will uphold the standards and spirit of the true West."

What began as a crude, one-room framed shop identified as "H.J. Justin, Boot Maker," has grown into one of the most successful and admired multi-million dollar companies in America. Today, Justin Brands, Inc. includes Justin Boot Company®, Tony Lama Company®, Nocona Boot Company®, Chippewa Shoe Company®, Justin Original Workboots and Justin Outdoor.

 

Justin Boot workmen were still hand-stitching boots in the 1930s. The company moved to Fort Worth in 1925.