Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

Columns

January 15, 2014

A boy and his dog, Buster Brown

One of my earliest recollections of shoe shopping – an addiction I’ve never kicked – was a trip to Leader’s Shoe Store on the square in Greensburg.

Mom would take us kids there each August for new school shoes and the only ones I wanted to try on, were Buster Brown’s.

With a confidence in his home town and faith in his dreams, George Warren Brown set out in 1878 to establish St. Louis as the shoe manufacturing capital of the United States.

He found two partners, invested his life savings and started a company that would, in time, change the face of the shoe industry. Today Brown Shoe is a leader in its field, netting more than $2.5 billion last year with global and integrated operations.

The first years were a struggle, but fate intervened in 1904 when Brown met cartoonist Richard F. Outcault. Brown convinced Outcault to sell him the licensing rights to his popular Buster Brown character. The next step Brown took would make advertising history. He assembled a group of actors and dogs, dressed them as Buster Brown and Tige and sent them on a nationwide promotional tour. Tige and his master were an instant success appearing at theaters and department stores where they would sing, dance, and of course, sell shoes.

A 1947 survey shows that 87 out of every 100 homes in America owned a radio, and the number one Saturday morning show was “Smilin’ Ed and His Buster Brown Gang.” Ed McConnell hosted the show with a revolving cast of “special guests” and featuring the weekly adventures of Buster Brown. While each show was uniquely different there was one constant, the opening song; “I got shoes. You got shoes. Everybody gotta have shoes. And the only ones Old Ed wants are Buster Brown Shoes.”

In the early 1950s the “Gang” moved to television where they ran successfully for four years. When Smilin’ Ed’s run came to an end, Buster Brown Shoes became the sponsor for “Captain Kangaroo.” In their first four years sponsoring the “The Captain,” The Brown Shoe Company saw their annual sales increase from $6 million to $30 million.

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