Once not very long ago, people didn’t wear shoes. For millennia, mankind walked barefoot. The history books will mislead you. You will see paintings of historic figures with noble shoes, high-laced boots, all sorts of footwear, but that simply isn’t true. For today, we find the thought of a barefoot Napoleon quite silly. If you go around telling people the great General Washington crossed the Delaware with his toes very visible, they will likely laugh in your face. But, my friends, I’m here to tell you this is the way it was until our embarrassingly recent history.
Yes, it’s true. I can tell you don’t believe me. Let me tell you the story. Once, not very long ago, there lived a young man on a farm. His name was Peter Goody, and he was a hat-maker. He lived on his own and raised a few cows, a few pigs, a few horses. When fall came, he would bring his livestock to market and sell them. He’d use the money to buy the food for the coming year and the rest he’d spend on fine leather and felt and silk. All during the winter he’d be in his little workshop making fancy hats, hats of all shapes and sizes. He made the finest hats for miles around. In the springtime he’d emerge from his shop with a cart full of hats and carry them off to market to trade or sell. With the money he earned from his hats, he’d buy another small herd of animals to raise.
Well, one spring he came out of his little hut with his cart full of hats piled high and started his barefoot walk to market. He walked and walked, through the small wood, over the large hill, and ran tiptoe through the giant field of thistle as fast as he could, like any barefoot person would. When he arrived in the city, he set up his sign (“FINE HATS!”) and waited for the rush of the crowd. He sat and sat and sat. Nobody came to buy a hat. In fact, he noticed that nobody was wearing hats at all. Men had no way to protect their faces from the sun besides their mustaches. Ladies who only last year would wear tall fancy hats upon their finely coiffed heads now wore no hat at all. In fact, it seemed all the people were avoiding eye contact. Old John Cooper, the blacksmith. Mr. Smith, the barrel-maker. Even Mrs. Potter, the baker, would hardly look at him. At the end of the day he had only sold one hat, to the old man, Mr. Tablemaker, who sold pottery in the stand next to him. The man promptly stuffed the hat under a corner of his table so it wouldn’t wobble.
“Sir,” said Peter the hat-maker, “why is nobody wearing a hat? I come here every year and my hats are snatched up in a day. People line up to see them.”
“Well, son, last month that rich Mayweather girl came back from London. She told everyone in town that nobody in high society wears hats anymore. So folks took them off and put them away. All the ladies want to be like young Miss Mayweather, see, and all the men want her hand in marriage.”
So at the end of the day, young sad Peter the hat-maker packed up all his fancy hats. He sold his little cart to Mrs. Potter, the baker, who chopped it up and used it for firewood. He had just enough money from the cart to buy a bit of food and one thin sad-looking milk cow. He bundled all his hats together, tied them onto the cow’s back and began his long barefoot walk home. He made it to the giant field of thistle and then climbed up on his skinny new cow to spare his toes and started to ride through.
Halfway through the thistle, he heard a cry.
He looked around. There at the far side of the thistle was the young Miss Mayweather. She sure was pretty, and blonde, and rich. She was also hatless and crying. Peter rode up to her.
“Miss Mayweather! What’s wrong?” said young Peter Goody the hat-maker.
“My feet. I’ve walked and walked and I can’t walk any more. I refuse to step into this thistle patch but it lies between me and my home.”
“Would you like to have a ride upon my cow?”
“I will not! A lady would never ride such a beast.”
Now, she may have been pretty, but Peter Goody the hat-maker was reminded that she was the reason his hats didn’t sell and he’d likely die this summer from starvation. She sure was pretty though. Those blue eyes.
“Miss, if you don’t mind, I could carry you across the field.”
She didn’t say a thing. She just looked at him with those big blue eyes, a single tear on her cheek. He picked her up, threw her over his shoulder and walked through the thistle. Each step hurt more and more but he was carrying a lady so he said nothing. His cow followed behind. At the other side of the thistle, he set down Miss Mayweather. Her face was flushed, perhaps because she liked him, but more likely because she had just been carried upside-down through a thistle patch.
She looked down.
“Your feet!” she said.
He looked down. His bare feet were red and scratched, and they hurt like hellfire.
“They’re fine,” he said.
“They don’t look fine to me. And I thank you for carrying me across the thistle patch but I still have miles to go until I reach my home and my feet hurt as well. I’ll just sit here and die.”
Now, here is the moment that changed history. Peter Goody’s new cow turned and looked at Peter and said, “Put a hat on each foot and the journey will become easy.”
Peter jumped. Miss Mayweather screamed.
“What did you say?” said Peter.
The cow stared at them, very confused. She was just choking on a large bite of thistle. (Cows do not speak English.)
Peter jumped up and grabbed an armful of hats. He put one upon each of Miss Mayweather’s feet. He grabbed a string and tied them up. He did the same thing on his own feet. They both stood up.
“Why, I could walk for miles!” said young Miss Mayweather. She laughed and twirled and danced there in the path. She ran into the thistle. “It doesn’t even hurt!” She ran to young Peter Goody the hat-maker and kissed him on the cheek and ran off towards the city. She sure was pretty.
He watched her run off and then he walked the rest of the way home, over the hill and through the wood. Indeed, he felt he could walk for miles. He arrived at his home and led the cow into the pasture. He went straight into his workshop and took his last sheet of leather. He worked through the night cutting and measuring and hammering and in the morning he had invented the shoe as we know it, complete with laces and a feather on each toe, just for decoration.
He stepped out of his workshop that morning wearing the world’s first pair of shoes, and holding the world’s second pair. He was shocked to see that outside of his door was a long line of hundreds of people from the city. They saw him and started yelling.
“Two hats! Two hats, please!” “Over here! I want hats!”
Peter Goody the hat-maker didn’t know what to do. So he sold every hat he had for twice their worth and had to turn away the rest of the crowd. They yelled and complained.
“Shoo!” he yelled. “I have no more hats. Shoo!” Which is of course how the name “shoe” stuck.
After they cleared away, there stood Miss Mayweather, pretty as ever, with two of his finest hats tied around her feet. She smiled at him. She sure was pretty.
And it was like this that the shoe came to be. Peter Goody the hat-maker married that girl. They used his craft and her father’s fortune and opened the world’s first shoe store. He made the shoes and she sold them. They sold shoes to everyone in the city, then they sold them in the catalogs. They traveled the world selling their fine shoes and quickly became richer than you could ever imagine. They built that cow an enormous barn with a gold-plated feeding trough. They gave away millions of dollars and millions of shoes to the poor.
Scientists and scholars could not understand why the shoe had never before been invented. Presidents and kings collaborated and conspired to change history so mankind would not seem so foolish to future generations. Paintings were changed, books were re-written to include the shoe. Cinderella’s prince now returned her glass shoe instead of her glass eyeball. Jealous people began calling Peter and his bride Mr. and Mrs. Goody Two-Shoes. That saying is the only thing that remains of the true history of the shoe, and other than his piles and piles of money, that’s the only credit Peter Goody will ever get.