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What Happened to Cat’s Paw Heels?

January 1st, 2010 · 14 Comments

By Garland Pollard

Cat’s Paw HeelsFirst used in 1904, Cat’s Paw is one of the great American brands.

The cat, according to the book Symbols of America, was designed by Lucian Bernhard for the Cat’s Paw Company of Baltimore. Bernhard is a famed German graphic designer who is best known for the font Bernhard, and his style of poster-making. When the trademark was officially registered in 1936, it was registered to Cat’s Paw Rubber Company Inc., Warner and Ostend Streets, Baltimore.

The brand now is registered to Biltrite of Waltham, Mass.; sadly their website was not up yesterday, and I haven’t been around enough shoe repair shops to know if the brand is still around. Their trademark registration is current, registered to Biltrite Corp., 51 Sawyer Road,Box 9045, Waltham, Mass.

It is also part of our culture. Folks even claim it was Cat’s Paw that identified the bluchers worn by Amelia Earhart, as a pair of shoes found on the island Nikomaroro could be identified by the Cat’s Paw soles, or so NPR reports. And it appears as a clue in murder investigations, including the Waterbury, Conn. Irving Pasternack murder in 1974.

The chief benefit of the brand is that it not only resoles a worn-out shoe, but it makes it better, less slippery. For instance, the Bass Weejun works better with a rubber sole, yet it does not change the essential nature of the factor product.

In a time when people kept good shoes for a long time, Cat’s Paw was part of a number of shoe sole or shoe heel brands that included Vibram, Biltrite, Holtite, Panco and O’Sullivan.

Cat’s Paw is the perfect brand to be continued to be “Made in USA.”  First, it is not price sensitive. If the heel is a few dollars more, the cost in a new heel is the labor, not the rubber. Secondly, the protection of a known brand name, for a slightly larger price, is small beans compared to the overall cost of the new heel. So when installing, the buyer, who has already decided to repair for a goodly amount, could easily be convinced that a brand-name sole is worth it. Thirdly, there is not alot of labor in making rubber heels these days. The labor is in sorting and such, which still needs to be done at the warehouse level. Lastly, it gives a brand appeal to something that could be considered a commodity. It makes something that could be considered downscale upscale.

Note: Read our story on the value of repair in a slow economy when consumers, who have extra time, search for quality goods.

Would love some readers to comment on the status of the brand, and what other shoe brands are out there.

More branding stories of interest:

Brand Icon: The Tretorn Nylite

Tags: Official Brand History

14 responses so far ↓

  • 1 A Great Look at Cat’s Paw | BrandlandUSA // Jan 4, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    [...] What Happened to Cat’s Paw Heels? [...]

  • 2 joe // Nov 20, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    i am selling 500 o sullivans heals on ebay in a couple weeks chek them out they are brand new

  • 3 Anonymous // Jan 31, 2011 at 7:43 am

    I found a cats paw soul to a boot in my back yard and it was size 8 1/2 it is so weird because nobody in my family wears that shoe and it was buried so we have no idea but aparently it could be107 yrs. Old.

  • 4 Harold Sims // Aug 14, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    Interested in purchase of Cat’s Paw shoe advertising for cat museum exhibit

  • 5 Bob Krongaard // Feb 16, 2012 at 8:31 am

    my dad was a missionary salesman in the midwest during the 50’s and drove cars that were bright red with the cat’s paw decal. He decorated small shoe shop windows in Kansas, Missouri and maybe even in Iowa. I think he went to work for O’Sulliavan after that.

  • 6 Ray // Mar 3, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    I was tearing down an old shoe shop from the 30s and saved a window pane and it had “cats paw” wording and the logo from that time and saved it. Don’t know if its worth anything but its pretty cool.

  • 7 Biff // May 2, 2012 at 5:40 am

    American Biltrite has Cat’s Paw heels on the Footwear Component of their Canadian website. I think they’re made in Canada now. You can still get them.

  • 8 Betty // Jun 29, 2012 at 8:22 am

    What was the Cat’s paw cats name?

  • 9 Gene // Sep 1, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Biltrite, which bought Cat’s Paw out in 1980’s.
    Combined forces, then was a buyout victim of Vibram, which renamed their company QB soling.
    That disolved in 2012? And Vibram of America(Quabaug) in 2013 is now manufacturing more product in Italy again…
    A Company named American Biltrite is located in Canada.

  • 10 Farrell Clarke // Sep 5, 2013 at 4:53 am

    What Gene has said about the fate of the Cat’s Paw brand is true.
    I have lived my whole life in Baltimore, MD (where Cat’s Paw was founded and manufactured for over 50 years).
    Cat’s Paw brand soles and heels were the premium brand in the U.S.
    Biltrite was a more affordable sole and heel (that was better than most of the foreign-made materials available today).
    When Biltrite bought Cat’s Paw in the early eighties the C.P.manufacturing plant was closed down in Baltimore and from that point on all Cat’s Paw products were made at the Biltrite plant located in Waltham, Mass.
    Cat’s Paw was the most recognizable brand name in shoe repair. It stayed that way for years.
    The Vibram brand came onto the North American shoe repair scene in 1965 when they worked out an agreement with Quabaug (also in Mass.) to manufacture their soles and heels here in the U.S. Vibram, an Italian company started in 1945, came up with some innovative materials that changed the footwear industry forever. But their soles and heels were only available on new footwear and not the aftermarket.
    Then eventually in the early 80’s we started seeing (in the shoe repair shops) Vibram lug soles (for mountain climbing boots) and EVA soles (for Rockport casual shoes).
    This is the important part to remember. See my next section for what happened to Cat’s Paw.

  • 11 Farrell Clarke // Sep 5, 2013 at 5:57 am

    What happened to Cat’s Paw….
    So to continue where I left off, Vibram did everything right to establish their brand as a premium sole & heel alternative to Cat’s Paw and Biltrite and any other brand available here in the U.S.
    Vibram had great products, good advertising, and a wide selection of soles and heels, etc. They even had a catalog so that all of the shoe repair shops could easily identify the soles and heels to chose from. This made ordering the right sole for the job much easier.
    But Vibram had two problems.
    For one,they were expensive. They were more expensive than anything else on the market, even Cat’s Paw. Not too many shoe repair shops could afford to buy the expensive Vibram products for everyday resoling and chose to use them only occasionally when requested by a customer.
    Vibram’s other problem was brand recognition.
    Customers, for the most part, new nothing of Vibram. They wanted Cat’s Paw, the most recognizable brand in the world.
    Cat’s Paw and Biltrite brands in the meantime started making products that resembled Vibram’s cushion (EVA) soles to broaden their line of products. As an affordable choice, many cobblers (shoe repairmen) chose the Cat’s Paw/ Biltrite brand once again. So the customers were happy and the cobblers were happy. Vibram,on the other hand, was not happy. They wanted to be the number one brand recognized in the U.S. period.
    When Vibram had the opportunity, they bought the Biltrite Company. Sadly, Vibram had no intention of keeping the Cat’s Paw brand alive. They effectively bought their number one competitor and shelved the brand-name.
    The Cat’s Paw and Biltrite brand have been gone from the market for so long that their are now two generations of Americans that know nothing of their brand.
    Vibram, in the meantime, is now the most recognizable brand name in footwear soling.
    Vibram achieved their goal of number one status.
    They win.
    Unfortunately the losers are the consumers.
    Vibram prices have skyrocketed over the last ten years (especially in the last two years).
    Since Vibram has no competition in the U.S. manufacturing market, they can charge what ever they want…and they do. Those increases are then passed onto the consumer.
    The million dollar question is how much are consumers willing to pay to repair their shoes.
    This is a problem for consumers and cobblers.
    This is not a problem for Vibram. The aftermarket is a tiny, tiny portion of Vibram’s sales. The majority of Vibram’s sales comes from soling materials sold to shoe factories worldwide. Vibram is now even making shoes. What do they care about shoe repair? I’ll leave you to answer that question yourself.
    Oh, and as for Cats Paw and Bitrite being made today in Canada by American Biltrite? Apparently that is true. However, I have yet to see any of their products here in The States.

  • 12 Dayton Boots // Dec 23, 2013 at 10:45 am

    […] then stumbled upon a whole box of Cat’s Paw heels, made in Canada. These iconic heels with their distinctive graphic were popular in the mid-century, […]

  • 13 Deborah // Mar 9, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    My father was a shoe repairman from 1936 until his retirement in 1982. Several years ago when going through his things I found a set of Cats Paw rubber hand puppets in the packages. Have been looking them up on the net and found no references to them. Does some out there have an idea how old they might be?

  • 14 Nathan k // Aug 9, 2014 at 11:57 pm

    I have about 11 boxes of cat paw souls and heels from at least the 20s plus a cat paw bucket plus cat paw tags from 1966 and 1985

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