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Birkenstock History

18th Century Beginnings

Is there really a Mr. Birkenstock? The answer is yes! As a matter of fact, generations of Birkenstock family members have been designing and crafting footwear since 1774, when Johann Birkenstock worked as a shoemaker in a small German village.
A Revolutionary Idea in Comfort
In the 1890s, Konrad Birkenstock -- Johann's descendant and a custom shoemaker himself -- had a revolutionary idea. Why not create a curved shoe that reflects the true shape of the human foot? The shoes were a great success, but unfortunately the next decade brought the introduction of cheaper factory-made shoes and a subsequent decline in the demand for custom-made footwear.

Konrad was undaunted. He knew he had a good idea, so he decided to develop a flexible, contoured arch support that could be inserted into these new factory-made shoes. The result was a uniquely comfortable shoe. Thus, the century-old Birkenstock shoemaking operation shifted from the production of custom footwear to orthopedic shoe inserts.

Konrad and his son Carl improved and refined the arch supports over the next 50 years. Their unique and popular product became known as "footbed supports" and the word "footbed" was registered as a Birkenstock trademark.

A New Kind of Sandal

 In 1954, Konrad's grandson Karl joined the family business. Not content to limit the Birkenstock product line to footbed supports, Karl dreamed of creating a shoe that would allow the wearer to feel as comfortable and healthy as walking barefoot. To create this shoe, he combined his grandfather's flexible, contoured arch supports with his own knowledge of foot structure and movement.

In a little more than 10 years, his dream became a reality with the introduction of the Madrid.

From Germany to America

In 1966, Margot Fraser bought her first pair of footbed sandals while vacationing in her native Germany. She discovered that the sandals greatly alleviated the chronic foot pain she had experienced since childhood. Margot realized that this was a shoe that had to come to America, and she began to sell the shoes to friends from her home in Santa Cruz, California. She is now the exclusive distributor for Birkenstock in the United States.

The Innovation Continues

Today, Birkenstock offers more than 400 styles of sandals, clogs, and shoes. Birkenstocks are available in a wide range of materials, colors, and sizes, and new materials and styles are introduced each year. Yet Birkenstock remains faithful to the idea that footwear should be designed first for the feet and should be built to last.