Florsheim Imperial Longwing Gunboats... and all the rest!

About Vintage Gunboat Shoes

What the heck is a Gunboat Shoe???

The Florsheim Imperial Longwing Wingtip Shoe.

When we think about Gunboat Shoes, this is the maker and model we all immediately bring to mind.

The "Traditional" Gunboat Shoe

The first incarnation of the most common version of the Longwing Gunboat was introduced by Florsheim in approximately 1959.

The model was called, "The Viking". This shoe may well have been a hand-welted model (I cannot be sure, as I have never actually handled a pair) because at the time of its introduction, Florsheim still had a large focus on remaining the highest quality shoemaker in the U.S. (a title they arguably held thru the 1940's). In short, the initial public reaction to The Viking was EXTREMELY positive. As soon as they realized they had winner on their hands, Florsheim made a few minor adjustments to the model including switching to a 100% Goodyear Construction (machine welted). The new model was called the "Kenmoor" and this construction technique enabled Florsheim to produce thousands and thousands of these tough-looking shoes.

Sadly, as popularity went up and sales rose, quality (in my opinion) went down. While I have seen a few early-model Florsheim Longwing Gunboats that still used Full-Grain leather, the later ones used Corrected-Grain leather (less expensive and flawed leather. Often plastic is added to coat the leather and hide imperfections) and the stitching is often erratic. Not really surprising since once U.S. shoemaking moved towards mass-production as their main goal (late 1950's and on), quality fell across the board.

As the popularity of the Longwing Gunboat took off, it seems that every maker of the time came out with their own version. There are some very subtle differences between them, but they are still 99% the same shoe.

Vintage Longwing Gunboat by Florsheim "The Kenmoor":


and a picture of the famous soles and heels (not my pic, the lighting in this picture shows them much better). Note the wood grain look finish and the V-Cleat "suicide heel" (Danger, VERY slippery when wet!

Even today, the Longwing Gunboat is a popular style with Florsheim selling a model (made overseas), as well as U.S. shoemakers Allen Edmonds and Alden.

Modern Longwing Gunboat by Allen Edmonds "MacNeil":


Modern Longwing Gunboat by Alden::


Before the Modern Longwing... The ORIGINAL Gunboats!

During World War II, U.S. shoe styles started making a major turn away from the thin-waisted and super sleek/ curvy models of the 1930's. By the time the war had ended, the "Masculine Shoe" had taken its place at the top of the style heap. It is very difficult to tell which maker actually started this trend, but UK maker, George Webb did it VERY well. Starting in the mid 1940's, his "Masculine" line of shoes (Yes, they were actually CALLED "Masculine Shoes"... possibly in response to England's feeling very strong and tough after the allied victory in World War II) showcased extremes in terms of sole thickness (often TRIPLE soled) and welt width.

1949 George Webb "Masculines" Shoe Advertisement + a pair of Super-Sized Plain Toe Derbies from the mid to late 1940's.


Budapester Shoes- A Classic Gunboat Style

The thick soled, big welted Gunboat can be found in so many incarnations today. There's literally something for every taste (provided you like big, heavy shoes in the first place). One of the older and definitely more distinctive styles is the Budapester. Originating in Budapest, Hungary (thus the name), these wonderful shoes can be easily identified by their high toebox. Shoe lore says that since the streets in Budapest were mainly cobblestones (which can make for pretty rough walking), the shoemakers developed this shoe style to maximize comfort. I have also heard that Hungarian shoes were tight fitting until World War I, when the best shoes all went to the military. The citizens themselves were often left with shoes that were much too large for them. Possibly this "loose-fitting" shoe situation simply stuck.

The thick soles help absorb the pounding the foot can take from walking on those cobblestones and the generous toebox leaves plenty of room for the toes (a fitting toebox can lead to toe rubbing and painful blisters). From the sideview, these shoes have such a rough and tough appearance. What an awesome look!

*Quick update... as I always do, I have consulted with some fellow shoe addicts for this section. There is some debate as to whether a TRUE Budapester need be merely a thick soled, high toe-boxed derby shoe OR whether it must be a Full-Brogue as well (punch-holed wingtip). Today Vass refers to the LAST (the shape of the shoe) itself as the "Budapest Last" and it encompasses the Norwegian and other styles as well. This said, I will follow the Vass example and stick with the definition I have laid out above.
Many thanks to Style Forum's Bengal-Stripe for his knowledge and willingness to share it!

Modern Budapesters by Laszlo Vass (Hungary) & Heinrich Dinkelacker (Germany)


1940's Hungarian Bespoke Budapester Shoes

Note the last 2 pictures where some interesting details come clear. First, the sole is finished with an angle-cut close channel (which protects the stitching from direct contact with the ground). Second, the construction is a classic Goyser hand-welted stitch (where the welt is outside of the uppers rather than between the uppers and sole as seen in traditional hand-welted shoes). This is a very watertight stitch. I point out these 2 details because Laszlo Vass, one of the finest modern makers of shoes today still performs these same exact touches on many of their models.


Vintage French Helstern & Sons bespoke Budapesters, circa 1940.

Note the last picture where this French maker uses their own version of a watertight and very sturdy construction... the Veldtschoen hand welt/ stitch (as opposed to the Goyser). Here, a stitch thru the side of the uppers attaches the uppers to the insole. The uppers are then turned outward and stitched thru the topsole. An extremely sturdy construction favored by some excellent French & UK shoemakers.


Vintage U.S. made Norwegian (Split Toe) Budapesters by Crosby Square, circa mid-1940's


Canadian Gunboats

Again, it's possibly impossible to find out which maker, or even which country made the first of these Monster Gunboat Shoes. BUT, there is no doubt that EVERYONE got into the act! In Canada (which isn't really known as a shoemaking capitol today, but was once home to some Fabulous Makers), some incredible examples sprung up.

Dack's (possibly Canada's largest and best known maker) 1940's Captoe Derby Gunboats


Dack's 1950's Grain Leather U-Tip Derby


John McHale (possibly Canada's finest shoemaker) 1940's Captoe Derby Gunboats


Just look at those Sole (Triple Sole is 5/8 of an inch thick= 16 mm) and Welt (1/4 inch wide= 6.5mm) measurements! These Gunboats are Battle Ready!


John McHale 1950's Wingtip Derby Gunboats- a longer and sleeker style, but still a "Big Boy"


American-Made Vintage Gunboat Shoes

The U.S. makers still had probably the greatest diversity of Gunboat Shoe styles around. The sheer number of American Shoemakers in the 1940's and 1950's resulted in so much experimentation that just about every style of shoe ended up being made into a Gunboat at some time.

1940's Spade Soles Gunboats by Stoebener


Widest welt I have ever seen. 9/16 of an inch (over 14 mm) is a HUGE welt. These shoes measure a full 5 inches (127 mm) across the forefoot. To put this in perspective, my size 8 1/2 (US size) shoes average a width of 4 1/4 inches wide (108 mm), so the welt alone adds nearly 20%!


1940's Allen Edmonds Gunboat Spectators


1950's Bostonian for Boyd's Oxford Captoe Gunboats


That 5/8 inch (16 mm) thick sole is mighty impressive. However, it's the sheer WEIGHT of these shoes that astounds. At over 4 POUNDS (over 1.8 kg) for a size 8 1/2 (US size), they are the heaviest pair of dress shoes I've ever seen.

OTHER Vintage Florsheim Gunboat Shoes

Florsheim may well go down in history as the "King of the Gunboats". Not only did they create the single Gunboat Style that remains a staple shoe for many collectors, the Longwing (possibly the most famous and most-owned Vintage Shoe of all time), but they made so many other fabulous Vintage Gunboat Shoes that are simply amazing.

Late 40's to 50's Florsheim Wingtip Derby (note the alternate/ early version of the longwing)


1950's Florsheim Wingtip Derby Gunboat Ventilated Spectator


1950's Florsheim Wingtip Oxford Calf & Suede Spectators


The Florsheim Kenmoor Last (last refers generally the shape of the shoe and specifically to the wooden form the shoe is built around) was used to make styles other than just the famous longwing. It was used for a Plain Toe Derby and a Norwegian (Split Toe) Derby as well.

1960's Florsheim Kenmoor Gunboat Norwegian Derby


Modern Gunboat Shoes

Although nowhere near as popular as in the late 40's thru the 1950's, the Gunboat Shoe still lives on today. In fact, some TOP Shoemakers still sell a model or two. JM Weston, a French Maker actually has made a Gunboat the "Flagship" shoe for its company. The "Chasse/ Hunt Derby" model is a Norwegian (Split Toe) Derby with a Triple sole. It is a Pure Beast of the shoe and can stand its own against just about any of its predecessors. 100% Hand-made and retailing for over $2000.00 today, This shoe has become an icon for shoe collectors around the world.

J.M. Weston Chasse/ Hunt Derby Norwegian Gunboats


JM Weston doesn't stop there, though. They also have the Triple Soled Wingtip Derby. Just look at that beautiful, rustic welt. Can't question the fact that they love making gunboats!

J.M. Weston Triple Soled Wingtip Derby Gunboats



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