Earlier this month, we announced the 100th Anniversary Maine Hunting Shoe®, a new, limited-edition member of the Bean Boot family with a nod to the original product design that launched our company in 1912.
So how did the original Maine Hunting Shoe come to be a century ago? Some may be surprised to discover that our founder, Leon Leonwood Bean, was a late-blooming entrepreneur. In 1911 he was a middle-aged man of forty working at his brother’s shoe and apparel shop in Freeport. Work paid the bills, but his true passion was always hunting and fishing. He was just back from a hunting trip and grumbling once again about the lack of a proper hunting shoe – one that would transcend cold, wet weather and provide its wearer comfort and agility – when he got a bright idea
L.L. took a pair of shoe rubbers from the store’s stockroom and asked a local cobbler to stitch the rubber bottoms to leather uppers. L.L. was quite pleased with the result and innocently praised his new shoe to Edgar Conant, a fellow hunter and prospective customer. L.L. made a pair for him to try out. Months later, a package arrived at L.L.’s store. Inside were the boots and a note from Mr. Conant:
Local hunters and woodsmen soon were impressed by the ability of the shoes to withstand the Maine weather. They requested pairs of their own. Bolstered by the interest of his peers and by his own entrepreneurial spirit, L.L. drafted a plan to market his creation.
At the time, the success of mail order giants Sears, Roebuck, and Co., and Montgomery Ward did not go unnoticed by L.L., who chose to launch his business using a similar approach, albeit with a four-page mailer containing a silhouette illustration of the “boot”, Mr. Conant’s feedback and a personally signed follow-up letter from L.L.:
The mailer was sent to a list of non-Maine resident hunting license applicants and was designed to establish L.L.Bean as a credible, reliable retailer with firsthand outdoors experience and a promise to stand behind his work, 100 percent:
“We guarantee this pair of shoes to give perfect satisfaction in every way. If the rubber breaks or the tops grow hard, return them, together with this guarantee tag, and we will replace them free of charge.”
The initial mailing garnered one hundred orders at $3.50 apiece. Unfortunately, that first batch of boots did not hold up the way L.L.’s personal pair had, and 90 of the original 100 were returned for deficiencies. The rubber was not strong enough to hold the stitched on leather tops. True to his word, L.L. refunded his customers and the company’s 100% satisfaction guarantee was born.
Nearly bankrupt, L.L. returned to the drawing board. He traveled to Boston to secure a sturdier rubber from the U.S. Rubber Company and set out on the sales path once again, this time also placing ads in National Sportsman and Field & Stream. Orders poured in and L.L.Bean emerged as a leading outlet for reliable, innovative outdoor equipment.
Today, the Maine Hunting Shoe has evolved to include thermoplastic rubber, an integrated sock liner, a variety of linings, and a foot-hugging insole. But at its core, it is still the boot that L.L. stitched together 100 years ago.
Do you remember your first pair of L.L.Bean Boots? Share your memory or story in the comment section below and we’ll donate $1 on your behalf to the National Parks Foundation as a part of our Million Moment Mission.
Learn more about the birth of the boot and other chapters in our company’s history in Guaranteed to Last.