The History of Steel Toe Boots

by Jensen Johansson ; Updated September 28, 2017

A steel toe boot, also known as a safety boot, is a type of protective footwear used in many industrial settings. Before the development of the steel toes, workers wore wooden clogs or leather boots. The lack of protection led to work-related injuries. The boots are reinforced with steel in the toe and sometimes combined with sole plates. Together they protect the wearer’s foot from falling objects and punctures. Although the boots were originally designed for workers, today military personnel and civilians use them as well.

Origin of the Steel Toe

The origin of the steel toe boots is lost to history. However it can be traced to at least the start of the 20th century when industrial safety became an issue. At that time Compensation laws were enacted. Until then it was cheaper for the employers to replace an injured worker than to introduce safety measures. Large companies became interested in investing into safer equipment due to liability costs. Red Wing Shoes moved into a steel toe line in the 1930s. Also some German marching boots or Marschstiefels, that were used by the non-commissioned officers in World War II, were reinforced with metal toe caps.

Wooden Boots

The first type of protective shoes were wooden boots, also called sabots. Workers in Europe wore them for protection from falling objects. Wooden boots protected farmers on the field from sharp objects lying in the ground and protected toes in case a horse or cow stepped on them. As sabots were worn in Netherlands, they played important role in its history. During the early industrial revolution, workers used sabots by throwing them into the gears of factories to stop production. The word “sabotage” came from this activity.

Safety Standardization

In 1970 the U.S. Congress enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act to ensure a safe work environment for workers. The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration was created to enforce standards for workplace safety and health. Among the standards enforced are the ones that cover the use of protective footwear in areas where there is a danger of foot injuries. Today safety footwear is mandatory in a wide range of industries, especially mining and construction.

Subculture

Steel toe boots have also been adopted by various subcultures. The sturdiness as well as the steel toe made the boots very dangerous in a fight. In the 1960s some brands of steel toe footwear, as well as other work boots, became popular with the Skinheads. This trend continued in the '80s and '90s with the punk and rivethead subcultures.

The Future of Steel Toe Boots

Unlike other protective equipment, safety footwear develops with the current fashions. To keep pace with customer expectations, manufacturers started to produce boots in a range of styles and colors. Although usually made of steel, the reinforcement can be made of a composite material or plastic as well. The importance steel toe boots have in industry and in many other settings assures their continued popularity.

About the Author

Jensen Johansson has been a freelance writer since 2006. He writes for various print and online publications, specializing in health and wellness, history, science and craft-related topics. Johansson holds Master of Science degrees in biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering, both from the University of Miami.