Kaufman Footwear

Kaufman plant on King Street, 1937

Kaufman plant on King Street, 1937

Kaufman Footwear, formerly the Kaufman Rubber Company, was a shoe manufacturing company in Kitchener, Ontario, that produced well-known brands such as Sorel winter boots, Kingtread work boots, Foamtread slippers, and Black Diamond industrial footwear. The company had sales warehouses across Canada.

Packing department, ca. 1920

Packing department, ca. 1920

The Kaufman Rubber Company was founded by Jacob Kaufman in 1907. Around that time, the Canadian Consolidated Rubber Company of Montreal purchased most of the smaller rubber companies in Canada, including the two in Berlin (now Kitchener): the Berlin Rubber Manufacturing Company and Merchants Rubber Company.  Jacob had been involved with both of these companies, and his son Alvin Ratz (A.R.) Kaufman, who had worked at Merchants Rubber, persuaded him to organize another rubber company.

Life-Buoy brand catalogue, 1911

Life-Buoy brand catalogue, 1911

The Kaufman plant opened in 1908 with 350 employees. It was constructed on about 4 acres of land at King and Victoria Streets and produced rubber footwear for both domestic and foreign markets. After Jacob Kaufman’s death in 1920, A.R. Kaufman became president of the company until he retired in 1964. During this time, the company’s product line expanded to include heavy rubber clothing for industries such as fishing, mining, firefighting, and meat packing. During the two World Wars it produced special footwear and gas masks for the Canadian forces.

Advertisement, 1950s

Advertisement, 1950s

Sewing room, 1969

Sewing room, 1969

By the 1950s, the Canadian rubber footwear industry was feeling the impact of competing imported products, and so Kaufman Rubber began manufacturing footwear made from synthetic materials. The most popular of these were Foamtread slippers, introduced in 1953. In 1954, the company pioneered the slush-moulding of waterproof footwear from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) under the name Showertogs. It also entered the leather work boot market with its Kingtreads name, and eventually offered a hiking and hunting boot known as Badlanders as well.  The Sorel line of winter sport and work boots, introduced in 1959, became Kaufman Rubber’s most successful product line.

Advertisement, ca. 1970

Advertisement, ca. 1970

In 1964, the company changed its name to Kaufman Footwear Limited, perhaps to reflect its diversity of products as the company was not entirely a rubber manufacturer any more. That year, A.R. Kaufman’s son William H. Kaufman became company president.

Making Sorel boots, 1981

Making Sorel boots, 1981

After A.R. Kaufman’s death in 1979 Kaufman Footwear became Kaufman Footwear, division of William H. Kaufman Inc.  In 1997 Tom Kaufman, son of William H. Kaufman, was named president. In 2000 Kaufman Footwear declared bankruptcy.

Kaufman plant on King Street, 1970s

Kaufman plant on King Street, 1970s

The Kaufman Rubber Company plant at the corner of Victoria and King Streets in Kitchener was designated in 1996 by the Kitchener Local Architectural Conservancy Advisory Committee (LACAC, now Heritage Kitchener) as architecturally and historically significant. The industrial complex was designed by Albert Kahn, an important industrial architect of the early 20th century.  The building has been converted into condominiums.

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7 Responses to Kaufman Footwear

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  2. Sean Ridgeley says:

    Wow this sure brings back memories for me my father was the Newfoundland sales rep for a number of years never a shortage of boots and slippers in the house.

  3. J says:

    Best work boots ever made even till this day. I nearly cried when they went out of business.

  4. Edward Stekar says:

    Hello Kaufman Footwear,

    I’m really sad that you are no longer in business. I owned your boots and they were fantastic. My first pair of boots, lasted about 9 years, Well, the side ripped open and the sole was SHOT!! My second pair only lasted 2 years, Thanks to my lovely, dear mother.

    I supposed that my mom thought that these boots were my brother’s…. Instead, she threw my boots in the trash !! In my perspective, there was not even a scratch on them. That’s because I took care of my stuff. Before and after winter, I would inspect them thoroughly, from the top, down to the bottom !!

    Afterwards, I gave my boots a good wash with ivory soap and warm water. Of course I used a soft brush, to clean them. Once washed, I would rinse good until soaked and walk onto the front veranda (on a sunny day). After, I’d sit down and lace them up, while wet. And last but not least, go for a walk.

    Sure my feet would be wet but with a bright sun, my feet would dry up in no time.. Also, the next time you put them on, your feet would feel more relaxed, because your feet left a mold when the boots were wet !!

    These boots, were the best ever. They went with me, to :

    – Downtown Toronto, – Scarborough, Ontario,
    – Oshawa, Ontario, – Burlington, Ontario,
    – Weston, Ontario, – Honolulu, Hawaii,
    – Cairns Australia
    Melbourne, Australia
    Adelaide, Australia
    Alice Springs and back to Toronto, Canada….

    Where ever I went, I must have had 20 – 30 people ask me :

    ” Where did you buy those boots? ”

    I would say, from Toronto, Canada.. Over the past 27 years, before the Kaufman business closed, I must have mailed 6 to 8 pairs of your boots, overseas…. Mostly to Australia…

    Its truly sad, to see you go, but one thing is certain……


    edward stekar..

  5. shirl66@sympatico.ca says:

    I bought a pair of kaufman Defrosters In the early 90’s In Kitchener & am still wearing them, just as warm as the first day I bought them !

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  7. Bob Pflug says:

    Yes I have had a pair of green Sorels for about 20 years which I wear when working outside in the winter across the Ottawa River from Montebello PQ. In my 80th year now having lived mainly in Ottawa and for 5 years Barbados in the 1960s, I was born and raised in Kitchener from where I left in 1959 except for brief visits since.

    I can still picture A.R. Kaufman coming through the Sunday School at Zion Church every week in full morning dress with tails to adjust the windows. I was left with the impression that he was a stuffed shirt but in later years and considering the times I now believe that was quite incorrect. Were he living to-day, I`m sure that we would find him at the forefront of enlightened social policy as in many ways he was in his lifetime.

    I should also add that my late mother-in-law was employed at Kaufman Footwear. For many years my mothers first cousin was Mr. Kaufman`s secretary or receptionist – I`m not sure if at the time there was a difference.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

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