The first companies to produce engineer boots were Wesco and Chippewa, introducing the boots sometime between 1937 and 1939. The America that these two companies introduced the engineer boot was less frontier and cavalry than industrial labor and automobiles. The engineer joined a growing variety of rugged boots made for workers who had the ability to choose footwear like never before. Catalog companies like Sears Roebuck soon began offering their own version of the engineer boot. By the late 1930s and early 1940s, the boot had become a popular choice for workers and sportsmen.
There is an often-reported myth that the engineer boot was so named as it was designed for train engineers. This story includes details like the high length of the boot was to protect the wearer from errant sparks and shovel blades from the coal-fired steam engine. None of this story adds up, least of all that the US had said goodbye to steam engines long before these boots were marketed as engineer boots. Looking at some of the advertising from the time period, it is clear that the use of “engineer” had nothing to do with train engineers, but rather “engineering” work like surveying. As ad copy from the 1940 Sears catalog says “you’ll find them [engineer boots] on the toughest engineering jobs,” with an illustration of an excavator and factory smoke stacks alongside the boots. Naming products for specific professions was common by the 1940s, with companies selling not only “carpenter” pants but also “foreman” pants among others. These names had less to do with specific design details than to signal their intended market (in this case workers). Naming them “engineer” boots also denoted them as a more aspirational product, a boot for skilled workers and those in management. One illustrated ad for engineer boots shows a man wearing them with their trousers tucked into the tops – to keep his trousers clean–, standing by a surveyor’s tripod and gesturing as if giving directions.