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Hyer Boot Company Records 1876-1988

Hyer Boot CompanyMicrofilm MS 1683-1686
Manuscript Collection 247


Company History Sketch

The well-known "cowboy boot" of frontier America fame has one of its origins in the shoe shop of Charles Henry Hyer of Olathe, Kansas in 1875.

C. H. Hyer learned the shoe and bootmaker's trade from his father, William Henry Hyer, an immigrant from Hanover, in what is now Germany. Hyer was born in Lyons, New York, in 1854. Before Charles was a year old the family moved to Kankakee, Illinois. After learning the cobbler's trade from his father, C. H. Hyer eventually moved farther west, but as a railroad employee rather than a shoemaker.

Charles eventually found his way to Olathe, Kansas -- the junction of the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails -- a factor that would later have a strong influence on Hyer's business. Hyer got a job in 1872 at the Kansas Asylum for the deaf and dumb. In order to augment his thirty dollar per month salary, he set up a shop in his own home, hoping to eventually work independently from his job at the "d and d."

According to most recent sources, the pivotal moment in Hyer's career came in the spring of 1875 when a cowboy came into his shop requesting a specially designed pair of boots (early accounts claim that Hyer moved to Olathe and started his bootmaking business at a later date). The cowboy wanted a pair which would be comfortable and practical for either walking or riding; a pair with an unusually high cut and other specifications particular to a cowboy's needs. The result was a boot whose design became the quintessential cowboy boot, now omnipresent in the American west. Prior to Hyer's development boots were flat-heeled affairs, round toed and either very stiff or very soft and form-fitting or soft and loose fitting. Some were easy enough to walk in, or ride in for short periods, but men who spent most of their time in the saddle were always having trouble with them.

The round toes were an impediment to getting feet into the stirrups quickly, while the flat heels sometimes sent the foot right through the stirrups so that the rider, caught at the wrong moment, could be dragged by a runaway.*

Hyer needed no advertising for this new boot style other than word-of-mouth publicity; they fit the anonymous cowboy's needs so well that soon, a stampede of cowboys came with orders for custom-made "cowboy boots." Though Hyer's has introduced dozens of different fashions of cowboy boots, the style is basically the same overall.

Charles invited his brother Edward to form a partnership in 1881, which lasted until 1889 when Edward relocated to Chillicothe, Missouri. Charles took over at that time.

During the depression of the 1920s and 30s, the family-owned business sustained itself by making boots for the military. Cowboys were as broke as everyone else and the Hyer's would not have been able to stay in business had it not been for this additional source of income.

As an indicator of the quality and reputation of the Hyer Boot Company, Hyer's kept in its custom files the patterns for such customers as Roy Rogers, Harry Carey, Will Rogers (whose boots were finished prior to his death, but not before they could be shipped to him), Tom Mix, William S. Hart, Dwight Eisenhower, Clark Gable, Theodore Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill Cody, Calvin Coolidge, and Richard Nixon to name only a few.

One of Charles Hyer's innovations was a catalogue which included instructions for customers to measure their own feet, ankles and legs, so that they could have custom-made boots without needing to travel to Olathe for a fitting. Most of their business was custom-made and by 1965, Hyer's had over 360,000 customer patterns on file. Once a customer had filled out an order form, complete with measurements and foot outline, Hyer's craftsmen could make an indefinite number of boots from then on.

The company has gone through a number of name changes over the years. Originally, it was the Olathe Boot Company, later changed to Hyer Brothers in the 1880s. Once incorporated in 1949, the C.H. Hyer & Sons Boot Company became officially known as the Hyer Boot Company.

In 1968, C. A. Hyer and A. E. Hyer, wanting to retire, sold the company to the Kansas City management group M.O.B. They in turn sold out to Ben Miller, Inc., of El Paso, Texas in 1977. Ben Miller closed down the Olathe plant in 1978 in order to cut operating costs and consolidate operations in El Paso.

* Fran Barclay of the Stillwater NewsPress, [Stillwater, OK] Sunday, January 9, 1983.

Scope and Content

This collection consists of a wide variety of papers of the C.H. Hyer & Sons Boot Company of Olathe, Kansas, 1876-1988, including catalogues, scrapbooks, order forms, newspaper clippings photographs, as well as other material. This collection has little in the way of such records as minutes of meeting and financial statements. This could be because the Hyer Boot Company was a family owned business. The only financial records exist in the form of account books ranging from 1896 to 1923. The only minutes of meetings are for a stockholders' meeting in 1966.

There is a copious amount of historical data in the form of newspaper articles, catalogues and promotional material. With this at hand, charting the company's history is not a difficult task. It seems that the Hyer Boot Company was anxious to assert its origins and development with every opportunity and in each catalogue.

Documentation not found in the manuscript collection itself, can be located in its corresponding microfilm copy, which includes loaned material not found in the donated collection.

Contents List


1 Account Books,
2 Articles, Newspaper and Magazine, undated.
3 Articles, Newspaper and Magazine, 1876-1987.
4 Catalogues.
5 Correspondence, 1924-1988.
  (See also Letterpress Book, Series 9).
6 Employee Pay Registers,
7 Farmer's Record and Account Book.
8 The Hyer Dealer, 1953-[1957].
9 Letterpress book, 1910-1917.
  (See also Correspondence, Series 5).
10 Miscellaneous.
11 Miscellaneous pertaining to Hyer Boot Company.
12 Photographs.
13 Promotional Material (see also Articles, Newspaper and Magazine)
14 Salesman's Forms and Order Blanks.
15 Scrapbooks.
16 Stockholders' Meeting. Minutes. 1966.


Additional Information for Researchers

Notes Pertaining to the Microfilm

Notice: This material may be protected by copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code). The user is cautioned that the publication of the contents of this microfilm may be construed as constituting a violation of literary property rights. These rights are derived from the principal of common law, affirmed in the 1976 copyright act, that the writer of an unpublished letter or other manuscript has the sole right to publish the contents thereof for the duration of the copyright. Unless he or she affirmatively parts with that right, the right descends to his or her legal heirs regardless of the ownership of the physical manuscript itself. It is the responsibility of an author or his or her publisher to secure permission of the owner of literary rights in unpublished writing.

Nanette (Hyer) Bohl donated material from the Hyer Boot Company to the Kansas State Historical Society in 1993. Charles Hyer loaned papers to the KSHS Manuscripts Division in 1994 so that the collection could be microfilmed. Having the two collections on hand at the same time, they were arranged separately, then brought together for microfilming as one collection. Donated and loaned materials have been distinguished on the microfilm with the use of microfilm targets and slipsheets. Following microfilming, the loaned material was separated and returned to the lender.

Prepared for microfilming by McInnes 1994.


.8 linear feet, or 2 5" document cases.

Preferred Citation

Citations referring to this collection should include the Hyer Boot Company -- Records, 1876-1988, Kansas State Historical Society, Manuscript Section.

The Manuscripts Section of the Kansas State Historical Society does not have literary copyright to this collection.