A recent column under this heading was about remembering the old International Shoe Co. plant in Washington, particularly about the World War II days in the early 1940s. You might call this part two.
The building has been given a new life as it is being converted into an apartment complex. Work is underway. What is published here is a major part of Washington’s history.
That column stirred memories about the 50th anniversary of International in Washington in 1957. The Missourian had a special section for the anniversary. In May 1957, the anniversary was marked by a two-day celebration. International was the largest employer in Washington, with 900 employees. The peak employment was more than 1,000 during World War II.
International began to phase out its operations here in 1959 and the plant was closed by 1961. For about 53 years it was the “bread and butter” employment center in Washington. In the mid-1950s, workers in the plant were manufacturing about 2 million pairs of shoes a year, or 7,500 a day, using what was known as the welt construction. In its 50 years here in 1957, the payroll was more than $55 million. For the year 1956, the payroll was about $3 million. At its peak, International’s total employment was 36,000 people.
At one time, the Washington plant was No. 1 in the manufacture of pairs of shoes of all the International factories, which numbered 58 in 1957. At the time, International was the largest manufacturer of shoes in the world. Total production in 1956 was 53,433,683 pairs of shoes, with about 48,970 for the military.
The company has its origins in the 1800s, and it became International Shoe Co. in ber 1911 when two St. Louis shoe houses consolidated — Roberts, Johnson & Rand and and Peters Shoe Co.— and later two more shoe companies joined with International. Roberts, Johnson & Rand had been in operation since 1898 prior to merging with International. The Peters company was 20 years old when it joined with International.
Washington won out over three other cities when it was selected as an expansion site by Roberts, Johnson & Rand in late 1906. Washington had a Citizens’ Improvement Association, which raised a “bonus” of $35,000 to get the shoe factory.
The original factory building was dedicated in June 1907. A public dance was held on the second floor. The Washington Concert Band under the direction of Edwin Spaunhorst provided the music. Early in July 1907, the factory began operations. In less than 10 years, the factory had fulfilled its promise of paying $1 million in wages.
An addition to the factory was made in 1914, followed by other additions to the building.
A year of planning went into the anniversary celebration. The general chairman was Walter Schuette. Co-chairs were George Buescher, Jim Feltmann, Jack Lohan and Carl Rice. The celebration included a parade, open house and banquet at the KC Hall. Other events were held. Two employees who worked at the factory for 50 years, Joe Filla and Orlando Boland, were recognized. Both were 66 years old.
Carl Rice was superintendent of the factory in 1957 and Herb Nolting was assistant superintendent.
Members of the committee who were credited with bringing International here were Dr. John Isbell, F. W. Stumpe, E. C. Stuart, John Thias, E. H. Otto, G. H. Otto, J. R. Gallemore, John J. Ernst. Edward F. Jasper and O. W. Arcularius.
The International Shoe Co. was an economic force in Washington for more than 50 years.