Children's Footwear: Wellington Boots

Figure 1.--This 1922 Montgomery Ward catalog items show that rubber boots were available for children in black and red.

Every British boy has worn Wellington boots or "wellies" at some time in his life. Wellies are knee-high rubber boots. I'm not quite sure why they were called Wellington boots, presumably they looked like the high boots worn by the famed Duke of Wellington--although his were not rubber boots. Wellington is a brand name and are actually quite pricey. The boots are also called garden boots or gum boots. These rubber boots have some kind of netting imbedded in the rubber). They have ribbed soles and reenforced arches. There are other manufacturers such as Tingley in New Jersey. Wellies were introduced to Americans of course by Christopher Robin. In a country like England where it rains so much, they were very useful footwear. American boys also wore rubber boots, but they were not nearly as common as in England.


Rubber is a highly elatic substance polymerized by the drying and coagulation of the milky juices or latex of various plants, especially the tropical rubber plant. Rubber is now thought of primarily in connecton with automobile tires. The first uses of rubber were in fact associated with the clothing industry. Rubber was known to native Americans in Central America and brought back to Europe in the 16th-17th centuries where its unique properties, especially its elaasticity were noted. It was not until the early-19th century, however, that practical uses were found for it, launing a financial bubble. The reaction of rubber to hot weather, however, made it difficult to use until Charles Goodyear invented the vulcanization process. Besides its uses in clothing, rubber became a major industrial product. Japanese seizure of Mayaysia and the East Indies during World War II closed major suppliers to the Allies leading to the development of stnthetic rubber in America.


I'm not sure when wellies first appeared. Rubber was available and the scientifc processes for working with it had been worked out and te final key step of vulcanization discoverd by Charles Goodyear in 1839. Just when the first pair of rubber boots were made I do not yet know. I believe it was about the turn of the 20th century. HBC has not noted boys wearing them until the 1920s. The ad here shows them being sold in America during 1922. We do not know at this time how much earlier they wrre available. We suspect that they were first made after the turn of the 20th century, but do not yet know precisely when they first appeared.


No country is more associated with Wellington boots than England. They have, however, been worn since the early 20th century in many other countries and are still a popular boot today. They continue to be most popualr in England and various former English colonies. Black and red rubber boots, for example, have also been extremely popular among Canadian boys, and remain so today. They are worn in other countries as well, but we have less information on this. We have noted them being worn in America. Red and black rubber boots were being sold in America in the early 1920s, but they are not nearly as popular today as England.Styling and colors vary from country to country as do the height of the boots. Linings and treads also vary. There are also variarions in how boys like to wear their wellies.


Wellies are knee-high rubber boots. These rubber boots have some kind of netting imbedded in the rubber. They have ribbed soles and reenforced arches. Llinings varied, including cotton, neoprene, or leather. Manufacturing processes varied. One manufactuerer reports that the soles are heat moulded in one piece and bonded to the upper with latex from the Hévéa tree. The final process is to vulcanize the rubber by heating them at 100°c.


Wellies or Wellington boots were named after the First Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), British statesman and general, 1769-1852. Europeans by the 17th and even more so the 18th centuries were wearing Jack boots, made of 'jack' or 'bend' leather, which was then waxed and hardened by coating the surface with boiling pitch. These bots were made to be worn over the knee, providing protection. They were thus popular for riding and in the military. The term jack boot came to be used for any high learher boot such as the ones worn by the Germany army. The term Wellington boot began to be used in the early 19th century in England because The Duke often wore them. The style was also worn in the French army and was also referred to as a Napoleon boot. I am not sure when the first actual rubberized boots were made. I note them in the early 20th century. As they were high, black shiny boots, they came to be called Wellington boots. They were not a specifically child's style but in rainy England, they proved to be ideal for children. Some of Ernest Shepard's charming drawings of Christopher Robin imortalized the connection between wellies and childhood. Wellies are also referred to as garden boots or gum boots.


The original English wellies were black. American rubber boots for children came in black and red. They are now made in several different colors. One company even offers them now in light blue with yellow frog eyes. Since the 1980s a dull olive green color has become very popular, in part because the Royal family took to wearing them.


Wellington is a brand name and are actually quite pricey. The manufacturer is Willowdale Products Ltd. There are other manufacturers such as Tingley in New Jersey.


Wellies were commonly worn at British boarding schools. In fact the most common fooitwear associated with Briritish schools are Wellies and school sandals along with plimsols for gym. As far as we know their use was most common at British schools, but hopefully our readers will inform us of use in other countries. an important factor of course is the British climate. By far the most widely worn color was the black wellie. There are outside activities at boarding schools in all sorts of weather and wellies were perfect for tromping around in the rain or muddy grounds.


Alcock, James. E-mail, July 24, 2002.


Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main boot page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Satellite sites] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web chronological pages:
[The 1900s] [The 1910s] [The 1920s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1950s] [The 1960s] [The 1970s] [The 1980s] [The 1990s] [The 2000s]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web style pages:
[Skelton suits] [Tunics] [Eton suits] [Kilts] [Sailor suits] [Knicker suits] [Short pants suit] [Long pants suits] [School sandals]

Created: October 25, 2000
Last updated: October 13, 2003