The Oval Office isn’t the only presidential perk up for grabs next week. A lesser known, but also coveted, accessory (aside from the Pennsylvania Avenue address) is a custom, handmade pair of Johnston & Murphy shoes – something the company has proudly created for every U.S. president since 1850.
Headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, since 1951, Johnston & Murphy was first established in 1850 by William Dudley, an immigrant shoemaker. After President Zachary Taylor’s untimely death that year, Dudley offered a good-will gesture to Taylor’s Vice President and successor, Millard Fillmore. President Fillmore accepted the cobbler’s generous gift and stepped into his new role in a particularly well-crafted shoe – the first of many presidential shoes to come.
Though Dudley’s businesses passed to James Johnston and William H. Murphy after he died in 1882, the tradition of crafting high-quality footwear continued. Johnston & Murphy remains one of the few companies that makes a line of shoes entirely by hand, and they pride themselves on maintaining simple elegance in all they create. But over the years, the company has shown its ability to evolve with the times, and to match a President’s style to their personalized pair.
“We do as much research as we can to figure out their general style,” said Rachel Donahue with Johnston & Murphy. “We offer up a few sketches and get feedback from them. So it’s a collaborative process.”
While most presidents opt for a classic, black cap toe lace-up pair, there have been some interesting style choices over the years:
• Abraham Lincoln’s size 14 black ankle boot was the largest documented shoe size since the company’s beginning.
• President Woodrow Wilson requested a pair of white buckskin cap toe shoes to fit with his partiality to hats and linen suits.
• JFK, known for his timeless style, selected a pair of classic wing tip lace-ups.
• Bill Clinton differentiated from them all with a pair of blue suede shoes in honor of his skills on the saxophone.
• Barack Obama received a pair of handcrafted size 12 runoff oxfords in black calfskins. He was also presented with a modern pair of ankle boots, in honor of his presidential inspiration, Abraham Lincoln.
Today, in addition to serving our presidents, Johnston & Murphy offers a custom option for each of us. Every pair is handmade through a 115-step process in their Nashville workshop according to your preference for style, color and size.