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Caleres Inc. is an American footwear company that owns and operates a variety of footwear brands. Its headquarters is located in Clayton, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. Founded in 1878 as Bryan, Brown & Company in St. Louis, it underwent several name changes; for a time, the Hamilton-Brown Shoe Company was the largest manufacturer of shoes in America. It went bankrupt in June 1939.
In 1881, it was incorporated as the Bryan Brown Shoe Company. In 1886, the company became the Brown-Desnoyers Shoe Company, after Mr. Bryan retired. In 1893, Mr. J.B. Desnoyers also retired, and the name was changed to Brown Shoe Company. In 1895, the Brown Shoe Company factory had about six hundred employees who could make five thousand pairs of shoes and boots a day. The company competed as Brown shoes were sold throughout the Midwest at prices lower than New England shoes, and by 1900 the company was growing at a rate of $1 million a year. Four years later the company bought the rights to Buster Brown, a character developed by cartoonist Richard F. Outcault they would use for marketing.
By 1902, Brown Shoe had five factories operating in St. Louis, and in 1907, the company set up its first plant out of the city, where labor was cheaper in Moberly, Missouri. In 1907, the company moved its headquarters to a building in downtown St. Louis. During this time of high competition, Brown Shoes kept profits high by keeping labor costs as low as possible, as the cost of plant equipment and materials were somewhat fixed. As the work became more mechanized, shoe factory jobs required less skill, and in the industry at large, positions were increasingly filled by women and children, who could be paid less. In 1911, a survey of shoe workers in St. Louis found that over half were between the ages of 14 and 19, with an average wage for a girl under 16 less than $10 a week. In response to the poor working conditions at shoe factories in the St. Louis area, including Brown Shoes', workers formed unions; the moderate Boot and Shoe Workers Union was followed by the more radical United Shoe Workers of America. The latter was associated with the Industrial Workers of the World. Strikes led to anti-union activities among workers as well, and the creation of the anti-union propaganda organization Citizens Industrial Association in St. Louis. Partly in response to the union activity, Brown Shoe Company increasingly turned to labor in the small towns in the surrounding area. With management remaining in St. Louis, the company secured tax subsidies from various towns to open factories in rural Missouri and Illinois.
Brown Shoe Company debuted on the New York Stock Exchange in 1913. Starting in 1917, the company secured lucrative military contracts with the United States government. The company encountered a crisis in 1920, when a rise in hemlines made many of Brown's high-topped shoes unfashionable and overstocked. The company had to go to Boston to secure credit from a bank, and the company then did well until the stock market crash of 1929.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s the company struggled to keep costs down, and workers' wages dropped, with a government investigation finding that workers at one plant were paid as little as "$2.50 and $3.00 for a 60-hour week." During this time the company also remained fiercely anti-union, even closing a plant in Vincennes, Indiana in 1933 when the workers there held a strike for recognition. The company also reportedly used physical intimidation against union organizers, hiring a strike-breaking agency and infiltrating the unions themselves. The Illinois Federation of Labor forced a grand-jury investigation into Brown in 1935, after a union representative was almost tarred and feathered. There were no resultant indictments, although the Regional Labor Board in St. Louis did later issue a complaint, where they cited Brown for intimidation of employees using agents and officers, and unfair labor practices. The subsequent hearing revealed that John A. Bush had hired the A.A. Ahner detective agency in 1934, an agency known for strike-breaking. In 1936, Brown was cited by the National Labor Relations Board for violating the Wagner Act over the company dissolving the Salem local union, but Brown would not reinstate workers fired for union activity. The Fair Labor Standard Act of 1938 mandated that the remaining Brown workers received higher wages.
Opening a plant in Dyer, Tennessee in 1941, Brown began moving production toward the traditionally non-Union south. In the 1940s, Brown's third president, Clark Gamble, began pushing the company into retailing. Becoming president in 1948 after John Bush, Gamble in 1950 initiated a merger with Wohl Shoes, which wholesaled mostly women's shoes in 2,500 stores in North America and Cuba. In 1953 Brown acquired the large retail chain Regal Shoes, and in 1956 it acquired G. R. Kinney Corporation, then the largest operator of family shoe stores. At the time, Brown was the fourth-largest shoe manufacturer in the United States.
In 1959, a U.S. District Court in St. Louis deemed Brown guilty of anti-trust violations, and the company was ordered to sell Kinney. The ruling was upheld in 1962, at which point Brown was the number one manufacturer in the shoe industry. Afterwards, Kinney was sold to F. W. Woolworth. For a time, the Hamilton-Brown Shoe Company was the largest manufacturer of shoes in America. In 1959, the company had acquired Perth Shoe Company in Canada, and in 1965, Brown bought the Samuels Shoe Company.
After doing well in the 1960s, in 1969 Brown's earnings dropped 25% after a 1968 flood of imports into the US shoe industry. W. L. Hadley Griffin became the company's president in 1969 and began diversifying into areas beyond shoes. In 1970 Brown acquired the importer Italia Bootwear, Ltd. After acquiring Eagle Rubber Company, Kent Sporting Goods, and other companies, in 1972 Brown changed its name to the Brown Group, Inc. It continued to acquire companies in children's products and sports and recreation. In the 1970s, Brown operated Famous Footwear, Cloth World fabric stores, Bottom Half jeans stores, and Meis department stores. In February 1979, it was reported that Brown Group, then the largest American producer of namebrand footwear, was petitioning for price relief from the federal government. 041b061a72