The Cool and Captivating History of Johnston & Murphy Shoes

Johnston & Murphy is one of the oldest American footwear companies still in operation. They are a subsidiary of Genesco Inc. and headquartered near Nashville, Tennessee. Johnston & Murphy designs, sources, markets, and distributes high-quality footwear, apparel, and luggage goods from their headquarters as well as through retail locations all over North America. Johnston & Murphy products are currently sold in over 1,600 retail stores (Suits Unlimited - Albuquerque, NM) and more than 50 countries worldwide. The company is one of the largest American-owned footwear manufacturers, with an annual turnover of $300 million.

Retail Operations and Wholesale are the two operating sectors of the Johnston & Murphy Group. The Retail Operations division sells Johnston & Murphy branded products to customers in the United States and 92 other countries via the website, as well as direct mail catalogs and 168 company-owned retail shops in malls and airports, including factory stores in outlet malls.

Additionally, Johnston & Murphy has grown their Wholesale division to be one of America's most popular brands. Currently, they distribute footwear products across 2100 department stores and independent specialty shops in 15 foreign countries.


Johnston & Murphy's company was founded when William J. Dudley, a European immigrant and skilled shoemaker who had been educated in the classic tradition of English shoemaking, opened his own shop in 1850 in Newark, NJ.

The William J. Dudley Shoe Company was known for producing high-quality, long-lasting work shoes. During its first 25 years, rapid growth meant the company had to relocate five times, each time to a larger facility. The Factory was initially located in a three-story building on Market Street, near Lawrence Street, near Pennsylvania Station. Charles Goodyear, the creator of the Goodyear company, was a frequent guest of Dudley's, according to the late historian William Starr Myers, conversing late into the night with Dudley.

James Johnston, a Newark businessman, became Dudley's partner in 1880. Johnston's goal was to broaden the company's product offerings and revenue streams. The company developed a line of higher-fashion footwear based on the dependability of its work shoes, which immediately became popular. When founder William Dudley died in 1881, Johnston took over the company and renamed it The James Johnston Company. In 1879, W.H. Dudley was succeeded by James Johnston, according to a manufacturing journal published in 1887.

The success of Johnston's local shoe company piqued the interest of William A. Murphy, another notable Newark businessman from a prominent family, in 1882. The company was renamed Johnston & Murphy once the two formed a partnership. By 1887, Johnston & Murphy had built a seven-story factory with 250 employees and steam-powered machinery to produce nearly 2,000 pairs of shoes and slippers every week. In 1892, the corporation moved into a newly constructed factory on Lincoln Street, between Mercer and Court Streets, in the Springfield Belmont section of Newark. In 1925, the company upgraded the facility to nearly double its original size.

In 1895, Murphy sold his share of the company to Herbert P. Gleason, the company's former top salesman. Gleason realized the significance of a well-known brand name and decided to preserve the Johnston & Murphy name while also forming a nationwide sales and marketing team. In 1903, James Johnston passed away. George Gleason, Gleason's son, devised the company's original motto in the 1920s: "The best shoes anybody can buy." He also created a series of "handsome lifestyle" advertisements and ran campaigns in Vanity Fair and The Saturday Evening Post, among other publications. The Country Club Series, a series of golf shoes that became one of Johnston & Murphy's most popular, was featured in advertisements.

In 1951, Genesco (then General Shoe Corporation) bought Johnston & Murphy. Genesco relocated Johnston & Murphy's operations from Newark, New Jersey, to Genesco's headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee.

The first Johnston & Murphy store opened in Schaumburg, Illinois, in 1971. After expanding its retail operations in specialty shops and department stores around the country, Johnston & Murphy built the first Johnston & Murphy Factory Store in Clearwater, Florida, in 1983. Johnston & Murphy also established a direct mail catalog selling men's footwear in the 1980s. To better target professional men on the go, Johnston & Murphy began opening outlets at busy airports, railway stations, and prominent districts in 1996.

Present Day

The official website of Johnston & Murphy was established in 1996. Johnston & Murphy began signing license deals for collections of belts, shoe care items, leather outerwear, and small leather goods in 1998 when they launched a flagship on the corner of Madison and 54th Street in New York City. Since then, the men's range has grown to include business cases and luggage.

In the fall of 2008, Johnston & Murphy debuted a new collection of women's shoes, leather products, accessories, and apparel.

The Retail Operations section of Johnston & Murphy oversees 160 company-owned locations and sells products through direct mail catalogs and the company's website. The Wholesale segment distributes Johnston & Murphy shoes to over 2,100 top department and specialty retailers, as well as through direct mail and the company's website. In addition, independent third-party contractors manufacture Johnston & Murphy branded items.

In November 2010, Johnston & Murphy held an online Ultimate Comfort Contest to promote a new line of men's comfort shoes called the XC4 collection. The letters XC4 stand for "extreme comfort," while the number refers to four features of the shoes: moisture-wicking, lightweight, enhanced cushioning, and a detachable insole for a perfect fit. The XC4 collection includes dress casual and casual designs, reflecting Johnston & Murphy's shift away from traditional dress shoes and toward more casual footwear. In addition, Horween Leather Company in Chicago provides Johnston & Murphy with leather shells for their footwear.

A Long History of Quality

Johnston & Murphy has a long history of quality, comfort, and style in its products. True to its roots, the company is still based in Nashville, Tennessee, and operates from the original Johnston & Murphy factory and office building at 511 Union Street in downtown Nashville.

In an interview with Retail Traffic Magazine, Genesco CEO Robert J. Dennis said that "the thing [he] likes most about Johnston & Murphy is it has been able to retain its heritage and integrity while also evolving with today's consumer." That tradition of quality and integrity continues today in Johnston & Murphy's pursuit of comfort, quality, and style for the modern consumer.