By Kris Leonhardt
German emigrant Peter Weinbrenner came to America, where he eked out a living in a small cobbler shop in Milwaukee, in 1855.
At the age of 13, Weinbrenner’s son Albert began work at the shop as an apprentice, learning the shoe trade alongside his father.
In 1892 the 27-year-old Albert formed a partnership with Joseph Pfeifer, opening a store on West Water Street in Milwaukee that sold footwear for job trades.
Eight years later, the pair ventured into manufacturing by purchasing the Knoll Shoe Company. With two other investors, they formed the Albert H. Weinbrenner Company and began producing 60 pairs of work boots a day.
The company’s reputation for quality gained it nationwide distribution, and production increased to 2,000 pairs a day. Outgrowing its facilities, the company first rented a large building before constructing a new one with a self-providing power plant to accommodate its needs. Shortly after, Pfeifer retired.
The company branched into dress boots, but its primary focus remained with customized trade boots, which were often patented.
The company’s first design was a 16-inch boot made specifically for telephone linemen, which allowed them to wrap their legs around the pole.
During World War I, the company served as the major contractor for the United States Army and its infantry. Military shoes later became popular in the civilian world, and in 1918 the Thorogood trademark was registered. By that time, the company was making boots for the mining industry, farmers, railroad workers, foundry workers, and oil drillers.
Continuing to grow and expand, in 1935 the Marshfield Industrial Foundation approached the company about relocating to Marshfield. The Great Depression had depleted the city of many companies and jobs, and Marshfield was looking for new industries to replace them.
The foundation proposed building a factory and leasing it to Weinbrenner Company for a reduced fee. The factory opened January 1936, and a portion of Weinbrenner’s production was brought to Marshfield.
Two years later, the company produced the first safety toe work boot.
The Weinbrenner family retained ownership until July 1960, when the company was acquired by Textron Inc. out of Rhode Island.
The company went through several decades of change before it came under local ownership in the late 1980s, when six management employees formed an investment group.
Today, 95 percent of the shoes sold in America are manufactured outside of the country. Weinbrenner is one of the last companies still holding its presence in the industry.
The company continues to produce a variety of work, uniform, fire, children’s, and outdoor boots; overshoes; and other footwear as it retains its reputation for innovation and long track record in the industry.