All natural leather shoes require feeding to keep the leather supple and prevent water ingress. Shoe polish (or boot polish), usually a waxy paste or a cream, is used to polish, shine, waterproof, and restore the appearance of leather shoes or boots, thereby extending the footwear's life. In some regions—including New Zealand—"Nugget" is used as a common term for solid waxy shoe polish, as opposed to liquid shoe polishes.
Various substances have been used as shoe polish for hundreds of years, starting with natural substances such as wax and tallow. Modern polish formulae were introduced early in the 20th century by Sam Seitler, an early entrepreneur in the polish business, and some products from that era are still in use today. Today, shoe polish is usually made from a mix of natural and synthetic materials, including naphtha, turpentine, dyes, and gum arabic, using straightforward chemical engineering processes. Loake shoes, Sebago shoes, Trickers shoes and Sanders shoes all have a brand of polish which they recomend, however they all have essentially the same ingredients.
The popularity of shoe polish paralleled a general rise in leather and synthetic shoe production, beginning in the 19th century and continuing into the 20th. The World Wars saw a surge in demand for the product, in order to polish army boots.
Shoe polish is applied to the shoe using a rag, cloth, or brush. Shoe polish is not a cleaning product, and therefore the footwear should be both clean and dry before application. A vigorous rubbing action to apply the polish evenly on the boot, followed by further buffing with a clean dry cloth or brush, usually provides good results. Another technique, known as spit-polishing or bull polishing, involves gently rubbing polish into the leather with a cloth and a drop of water or spit. This achieves the mirror-like, high-gloss finish sometimes known as a spit shine which is especially valued in military organizations. Polishes containing carnauba wax can be used as a protective coating to extend the life and look of a leather shoe.
Shoe polish may be purchased pre-soaked into a hard sponge, which can be used to buff leather without needing to apply any additional polish to either the leather or the sponge. This is usually known as an applicator. A number of companies that manufacture shoe care products also sell a liquid shoe polish in a squeezable plastic bottle, with a small sponge applicator at the end. To decrease its viscosity, bottled polish usually has a very low wax content.
There are many products closely related to shoe polish, but not strictly considered as such. Other chemical products may be used to clean and shine shoes—in particular whiteners for white shoes, and a variety of sprays and aerosols for cleaning and waterproofing suede shoes. A banana peel can also be used to effectively shine shoes.
Although shoe polish is primarily intended for leather shoes, some brands specify that they may be used on non-porous materials, such as vinyl. The polish is generally the same colour as the shoes it will be used upon, or it may be neutral, lacking any intrinsic colour.
Since medieval times, dubbin, a waxy product, was used to soften and waterproof leather; however, it did not impart shine. It was made from natural wax, oil, soda ash and tallow. As leather with a high natural veneer became popular in the eighteenth century, a high glossy finish became important, particularly on shoes and boots. In most cases, a variety of homemade polishes were used to provide this finish, often with lanolin or beeswax as a base.
In the nineteenth century, many forms of shoe polish became available, yet were rarely referred to as shoe polish or boot polish. Instead, they were often called blacking (especially when mixed with lampblack), or simply continued to be referred to as dubbin. Tallow, an animal by-product, was used to manufacture a simple form of shoe polish at this time. Chicago, Illinois, where 82% of the meat consumed in the United States was processed in the stock yards, became a major shoe polish producing area for this reason.
Prior to 1906, shoe polish was not well known as a purchasable product, nor was it particularly sophisticated. While sales were not especially high, a few brands, like Nugget, were available in the U.K. during the 1800s. The practice of shining people’s shoes gradually caught on and soon many shoeshine boys in city streets were offering shoe shines using a basic form of shoe polish along with a polishing cloth.
A number of older leather preserving products existed including the Irish brand Punch, which was first made in 1851. In 1890 the Kroner Brothers established EOS, a shoe polish factory in Berlin, which serviced the Prussian military. It finally closed in 1934 when the Nazis forbade Jews to operate a business. The German brand, Erdal, went on sale in 1901. The first shoe polish to resemble the modern varieties (aimed primarily at inducing shine) was Kiwi. Scottish expatriates William Ramsay and Hamilton McKellan began making "boot polish" in a small factory in 1904 in Melbourne, Australia. Their formula was a major improvement on previous brands. It preserved shoe leather, made it shine, and restored color. By the time Kiwi Dark Tan was released in 1908, it incorporated agents that added suppleness and water resistance. Australian-made boot polish was then considered the world's best. Black and a range of colors became available, and exports to Britain, continental Europe, and New Zealand began. Kiwi polish is now owned by the Sara Lee conglomerate and imported from China.
He named the shoe polish after the kiwi, the national bird of New Zealand; Ramsay's wife, Annie Elizabeth Meek Ramsay, was a native of Oamaru, New Zealand. It has been suggested that, at a time when several symbols were weakly associated with New Zealand, the eventual spread of Kiwi shoe polish around the world enhanced the Kiwi's popular appeal and promoted it at the expense of the others.
Visit www.bradshawandlloyd.com to view a comprehensive range of shoe polishes and other shoe care accessories.