It seems that shoehorns have been around since about the fifteenth
century. Like many other modest, but daily useful inventions we take
rather for granted, such as the button or the pencil, it is unlikely a
particular person can be pointed to as the "inventor". The fifteenth
century timeline is from the book "Buttonhooks and Shoehorns" by Sue
This book by Brandon is widely available. Here's the listing for it at
It does appear that shoehorns were named because of their function and
the material from which they are originally constructed: horn. Before
the advent of plastics, and the wide availability of materials such as
paper and glass, animal horns were the raw material for many more
things than is common today, including shoehorns: "over the years,
horners have made book pages , walking sticks, shoe lifts (or more
properly shoe horns), window panes, lantern panes, spoons, knife
handles, sword and dagger handles, tobacco jars, hunting horns, powder
horns, drinking horns, snuff mulls, ink wells, cupping horns
(medical), bow ends for longbowmen as well as needlework tools,
lacemaking tools, condiment holders and combs."
Many shoehorns today, of course, are made of plastic. And many,
including the one in my closet, are made to simulate the original
horn. It is however, still possible to buy a shoehorn made from the
original material. Here's a company called Speyside Horn in Scotland
that can supply such at item:
All cow horn with leather thong loop
6.50 for approx. 6" long
12.00 for approx 10" long"
(Those prices are in pounds sterling.)
There is not a huge amount of shoehorn information on the Internet,
but there is an essay there about a gentleman named John Moakler who
collects shoehorns, and which contains some pertinent history.
"Shoehorns existed as far back as the middle ages and perhaps even
earlier. Elizabethan shoes, for example, were extremely tight-fitting
and would have required a shoehorn. During the sixteenth and early
seventeenth centuries many highly decorated shoehorns were produced."
Mr. Moakler's collection contains more than 800 shoehorns in such
materials as "silver, brass, stainless steel, aluminum, copper,
gunmetal, ivory, wood, plastic and tortoiseshell... They come from all
over the world including America, Africa, India, Australia, France,
Germany, Norway, Spain, Portugal and the Channel Islands to name but a
few places. Many of them carry advertising messages or slogans, while
others are collected purely for their decoration."
It seems that buttonhooks and shoehorns are closely connected in the
history of human clothing: "During the Victorian era wherever you
found boots or shoes you invariably found shoehorns and buttonhooks.
Throughout the 19th century buttonhooks were used to fasten men's
stiff leather button-boots. Towards the latter part of the century
they were introduced to cater for the needs of the feminine market
when lines of buttons became fashionable on ladies' gloves, clothing
and footwear. Shoehorns were produced as companions to buttonhooks,
but by the beginning of World War ll buttonhooks had fallen into
disuse whereas shoehorns are still made to this day, although in much
In more recent centuries, shoehorns, along with corset ribs and hoops
for skirts, were often made from whale bone.
Then, along came the age of plastics. In 1862, Alexander Parkes
invented the first plastic which he called Parkesine. Later to become
known as Celluloid, Parke's invention "was formed from natural
materials developed from cellulose. Again many of the products created
from this material were decorative fashion accessories but also more
mundane items such as shoehorns and door handles."
These days, as someone such as yourself in the shoe business already
knows, the increase in casual footwear has lessened the use of
shoehorns, but they will probably always be with us. It seems that the
majority of websites these days offering shoehorns for sale are
selling them as promotional items. They also show up often on websites
oriented toward persons with disabilities caused by pain, paralysis or
weakness: "A simple shoe horn can be your best friend when it comes to
putting on shoes and boots, whether laced, buckled, or slip-on. Shop
for a long-handled model to reduce bending and straining; check that
the point where the horn joins the handle is sturdy, particularly if
you use it for heavy shoes or boots. The handle can be built up if you
find it hard or painful to grip. Push your shoe up against a wall or a
solid piece of furniture for stability when putting it on."
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