There is a framed set of letters hanging on the walls at the entryway to Horween leather written by Colonel James L. Collins for General John J. Pershing. They have hung here for decades. Preshing led American troops alongside French troops through the trenches in WWI. He was also a fan of Horween shell cordovan for his own riding boots.
Conditions were brutal in the trenches and Pershing saw a need for a better boot. These letters document the beginning of the relationship between Horween and Pershing. With the help of Horween, General Pershing developed the 1918 Trench Boot which was better known as the “Pershing Boot”. Here is a transcription of the correspondence:
(From Horween Leather’s Boston sales agent, A.F. Gordon to Horween Leather Co. in Chicago)
May 13th, 1918
Messrs. I. Horween & Co.,
No. Branch & Division Sts.,
Wired you to-day as per copy of Night Lettergram enclosed requesting you to send us by parcel post special delivery 12 #1 Wine or Dark Brown Butts, and to pick out extra good butts as these were to make riding boots for high government officials.
In explanation would state that these butts are to make riding boots for General Pershing. Sometime ago we sold a few #1 Cordovan Butts to the secretary of Congressman Phelan a brother of a Lynn shoe manufacturer, who made a pair of riding boots for Col. Sweetser.
It happened that Col. Sweetser walked into General Pershing’s office wearing said riding boots, and these riding boots took General Pershing’s eye. His aide tried to get a pair of these boots in London and in Paris but was unable to do so, so he asked Col. Sweetser’s aide where the Colonel got the boots, and it was finally traced to I. Horween & Co., So inasmuch as these Butts are for such a distinguished gentleman, everyone is quite anxious to give him the very best.
Thought you might like a copy of General Pershing’s letter so Mr. Malloy, Hon. Phelan’s secretary will send us a copy of this letter.
A.F. Gordon Inc.
(from Colonel James L Collins under General Pershing to Michael Phelan to Horween sales agent, A.F. Gordon, Boston MA)
American Expeditionary Forces
Office of the Commander-in-Chief
France, April 23, 1918.
Care Congressman Michael F. Phelan,
My dear Mr. Mallory:
I trust that you will pardon my writing to ask if you could give me the address or order for me sufficient Cordovan leather for a pair of boots that I am anxious to have made. General Edwards came into our office sometime ago wearing a very handsome pair of boots, and when I asked his Aide where he had gotten the leather he referred me to you.
I tried to get some of this leather while in London and was informed that it could not be obtained anywhere but in the United States, and General Edwards’ Aide gave me your address and said you might be able to help me out.
If you will please give me the address, or order shipped to me, Colonal James L. Collins, A.D.C. Headquarters A.E.F., France, leather for one pair of boots I will be very greatly indebted to you.
Thank you in advance for the trouble I am putting you to, I am,
Very truly yours,
James L Collins
Colonel, F.A., A.D.C.