Cool Things - Hyer Cowboy Boots
Kyra Zuck of Prairie Village, Kansas donated these Hyer boots. She spotted them on the Internet and purchased them because they had several well-known Kansas emblems, including wheat, sunflowers, and jayhawks.
The Hyer Boot Company was founded circa 1880 by brothers Charles and Edward Hyer. As boys they learned boot making from their father, William, a German immigrant who began practicing shoemaking after he came to the United States in the mid-1800s. Charles moved to Olathe in 1872 where he found work at the Olathe School for the Deaf teaching shoe and harness making. He opened a small cobbling shop on the side and hired his brother Edward to help him run it.
Inventing the Cowboy Boot
Tradition credits Charles Hyer as one of the first to invent the cowboy boot. Company promotional materials state that a Colorado cowboy stopped by the Hyer shop on his way home from the Kansas City stockyards in 1875, requesting a new pair of boots that were different from his Civil War-style boots. He wanted a boot with a pointed toe that would slide more easily into a stirrup, a high, slanted heel that would hold a stirrup, and a high top with scalloped front and back so he could get in and out of his boots more easily. Charles accepted the challenge. The unknown cowboy was so pleased with Hyer's work that he returned to Colorado and told others about his new boots.
The brothers employed mostly immigrant craftsmen from Germany, Sweden and Poland during the early years. They made cowboy boots for cattlemen, rodeo performers and movie stars such as Buffalo Bill Cody, Tom Mix, Will Rogers, and Gene Autry. To reach potential customers further west and across the ocean, the company created mail-order catalogues with measuring charts. During World War I, the Hyers made boots for the officers at Fort Leavenworth and at Camp Funston. In 1961, governors from the 49 other states were outfitted with Hyer boots courtesy of Governor John Anderson. They were presented as part of the traditional exchange of gifts between governors during the annual Governor's Conference.
A Changing Workforce
Better opportunities for immigrants and a changing workforce meant that the Hyer company had to adapt. As early as 1911, the Hyers lamented that fewer young people were entering shoemaking apprenticeships, which meant that they had to hire unskilled laborers and adjust the work accordingly. They were able to maintain the quality of their boots by having each worker complete one aspect of the boot making process, as opposed to assembling a boot from start to finish. This strategy allowed the Hyer Boot Company to remain competitive for several years.
In 1977 the Hyer name was sold to the Ben Miller Boot Company of El Paso, Texas. Despite the official end of approximately 100 years of boot making, the tradition continued at the Olathe Boot Company which hired several former Hyer employees and purchased some of the Hyer equipment. The Olathe Boot Company was founded in 1975 and is still in operation.
Today, many examples of Hyer products can be found in the Kansas Museum of History collection. The pictured black 19th century boots are on display in the museum's main gallery. In addition to Hyer boots and shoes, the collections also include patterns, lasts, and boot making equipment, as well as photographs of the owners and the employees.
Entry: Cool Things - Hyer Cowboy Boots
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: November 1999
Date Modified: December 2012
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.