Browsing through the advertisements in early Nebraska newspapers reveals that our grandparents and great-grandparents had a choice of fashionable footwear. “A neat foot in a tidy fitting shoe or boot is the pride of the average man and woman,” said the Omaha Daily Bee on April 22, 1888, “and it goes without saying that they will in nine cases out of ten sacrifice the balance of their attire for the more aesthetic attirement of their feet.”
A Bee reporter, after visits to several Omaha shoe stores, asked employees for statistics on the sizes of shoes asked for by Omaha shoppers. “At the establishment of Charles W. Cook a half dozen clerks were busy fitting shoes on the feet of men and women, and, replacing in boxes numberless pairs that had been tried on and discarded by dissatisfied customers. ‘What are the average size of shoes worn by women?’ was asked of the younger Mr. Cook.
“‘Well,’ was the curt reply, ‘they vary like the weather, and we sell some very large ones and some very small ones. However, as far as my observation goes, the ruling sizes are from 3 1/2 to 4′s, made on different kinds of lasts.” Asked for the average size of a man’s shoe in Omaha in 1888, Cook replied, “Men as a rule wear from 7′s to 8′s but we have larger sizes. Nevertheless, the first mentioned numbers take the lead.”
A clerk at another Omaha shoe store corroborated the prevalence of sizes which seem small to the shoe shoppers of 2012, and added: “Men do not wear as large shoes as is supposed. They will average from seven to eight and a half, but eight is about the nearest.”
As modern Americans grew taller and heavier, the size of their feet kept pace. Visitors to the exhibits in the Nebraska History Museum now marvel at the small boots and shoes that once graced the feet of Nebraskans of an earlier day. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor/Publications