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Story of L.L. Bean and the Maine Hunting Shoe

Historial display of early Maine Hunting Shoes -- the product that launched L.L. Bean.It’s a classic story of American entrepreneurism. In 1911, Leon came home after dark from a long day in the woods. He was cold, tired, hungry, and, worst of all, his feet were wet. They had been virtually all day.

As he poked up the fire in the stove and changed clothes, he kept thinking, “There has to be a better way.” He thought about it, and thought about it some more.

“I need boots that are going to be comfortable and light enough to walk in all day, but will be waterproof like these rubber boots all the watermen are wearing now,” he thought. “What if I were to take a rubber bottom and marry it to a leather upper?”

Even today, 106 years later, as an outdoors enthusiast you probably know what product this story is about – the Bean Boot and its great-great-grandparent the Maine Hunting Shoe. More than a century after its invention, the rubber-bottom leather top boot is more sought after than ever.

Leon Leonwood Bean drew up his plans for the boots and took them to a local cobbler in Freeport, Maine. He ordered 100 pairs. When the lot was complete, L.L. checked over the boots and felt them to be of high quality. He called them the “Maine Hunting Shoe” (the name under which that original pattern is still sold today).

To market the boots, he obtained a mailing list of Maine non-resident hunting license buyers. He drafted a 3-page flyer boldly proclaiming, “You cannot expect success in hunting deer or moose if your feet are not properly dressed. The Maine Hunting Shoe is designed by a hunter who has tramped the Maine woods for the last 18 years. We guarantee them to give perfect satisfaction in every way.”

The great news in the next few weeks was that the initial run sold out. He shipped every pair they made. The bad news in the weeks after that was that 90 of those first 100 pairs were returned because the rubber bottoms separated from the leather tops.

Bean’s story nearly ended there, but he was a man of his word. He scraped together the money and refunded the purchase price to each and every dissatisfied customer. He borrowed $400 more and struck a deal with the United States Rubber Company in Boston to make a better quality boot for him. With undiminished confidence he mailed more brochures.

The second run of boots was a hit … and they lasted. Customers spread the word of L.L. Bean’s quality and service, and the rest … is history.

Today, the L.L. Bean company is among the giants in retailing to outdoor enthusiasts of all types. In addition to the 5-acre flagship retail campus on Main Street in Freeport (that’s open 24-7-365), they have more than 40 retail outlets across the country as well as the continuous mail order business that ships product around the world.

Today, the L.L. Bean brand is more prevalent than ever in the outdoor world. The flagship retail store alone welcomes some 3 million guests each year. All because a Maine Outdoorsman named Leon figured out a solution for his cold, wet feet.

 

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