March 27 – Happy Birthday, Shoelaces!

Posted on March 27, 2014

Buckle up your shoes!

Slip on your slippers!

Button up your boots!

There have been all sorts of ways to keep shoes on our feet, all through history—including ancient and medieval shoelacesbut on this date in 1790 an Englishman named Harvey Kennedy introduced something that caught on big and has been big ever since:
Modern shoelaces.

The kind of shoelaces that go through pairs of holes; the laces can be loosened to allow the foot to enter the shoe, and then tightened to hold the shoe securely on the foot.

Back in the day, traditional shoelaces were made of natural materials: jute, leather, hemp, cotton. Now shoelaces tend to be made of synthetic (human made) fibers. The downside of synthetic fibers is that they are more slippery, so laces can come undone more easily—but the synthetic laces are stronger and last longer.

(Boy, have I had problem with “cool” leather laces – they break so easily!)

Apparently one feature of modern shoelaces, the aglet, was also used by ancients to some extent. Aglets are the hard tips on the ends of shoelaces, which prevent the laces from fraying and which make it a lot easier to thread laces through the lace holes or eyelets.

There is some evidence that aglets were used in Roman Empire times to help thread ribbons and other clothing closures. They were made from metal, glass, stone, brass, or even silver. These days, our shoelace aglets tend to be made of metal or plastic.

I read that Harvey Kennedy's 1790 shoelaces frustrated people because they had no aglets, and so they quickly became difficult to string up. The very next year, Kennedy's updated invention included aglets made of tin or stone.

I also read that Kennedy made a lot of money—millions!—with his shoelaces.

Did you know...?
  • Shoelaces are also called shoestrings or bootlaces.
  • Necessity is the mother of invention, don't you know, and many different people have reinvented ways to make aglets when a shoelace breaks and they can't immediately get another. I know that I have used small pieces of adhesive tape in an effort to make a shoelace I can thread through holes. During the Great Depression, people made aglets out of paper and glue.
  • There are almost two trillion ways to lace a shoe with six pairs of eyelets!

To celebrate the day…

Fancy up your favorite pair of tennis shoes with colorful shoelaces.

Here's a cool idea: Use multiple shoelaces to lace up your left shoe with a different lacing pattern than the one you use on your right shoe!

Learn more about shoelaces at Ian's Shoelace Site

Also on this date:

Skyscraper Day

Plan ahead:

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