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Productsshoe polish

Shinola is a defunct American brand of shoe polish. The Shinola Company, founded in Rochester, New York in 1877 as the American Chemical Manufacturing and Mining Company, produced the polish under a sequence of different owners until 1960.[1] "Shinola" was a patented name and trademark for boot polish.[A] The suffix -ola is a popular component of trade names in the United States.[B] It was popular during the first half of the 20th century and entered the American lexicon in the phrase, "You don't know shit from Shinola," meaning to be ignorant. The brand name was acquired by the retail company Shinola in 2011.


Shinola home set, shoe polisher - Hallwyl Museum
A July 1912 review of Shinola shoe polish from Commercial America, a trade magazine of the time.

George Melancthon Wetmore (August 31, 1858 – June 10, 1923) was born in Gates, New York and, after attending military school, got a degree at the Rochester Business Institute. At age 18, he went to work for the American Chemical Manufacturing and Mining Company, which was founded in Rochester, New York (near Brown's Race) in 1877. The company was primarily focused on carpet cleaning, but sold several specialty products, including boot and shoe polish. Wetmore found that the polish was cheaply made, did not hold or bond well, and 95% of it was dyed black using lamp black. Wetmore designed a replacement and initially called it SHINOL′A. In 1886, Wetmore was promoted to vice president, and a few years later, to president of the company. By 1909, the company had moved to a larger facility to handle increasing orders.[1][6]

Shinola polish was noted for its distinct dark green tin with red and gold lettering. The tin came with a patented key "for the convenient lifting of the lid". Shinola was produced in several colors: black, white, oxblood, red, tan, and brown. Several Shinola-branded shoe shining accessories were sold as well, such as shoehorns and the Shinola Home Set which included a polisher, bristle dauber, and the polish itself.[1][7]

Known by 1917 as simply The Shinola Company, the firm saw success expand globally, selling especially well in Europe, during the rise of World War I as many young men entered the military and were expected to be well-dressed during training. The company used a series of slogans to promote the product. For example, “Makes old shoes look like new. Keeps new shoes from looking old.” It became the largest manufacturer of the product in the world circa 1917, being carried into war by doughboys.[1] After Wetmore's death in 1923, the company was sold and became part of the "2 in 1-Shinola-Bixby Corp.", beginning a series of acquisitions related to the brand.[3] In the 1940s, the polish became a product of Best Foods and was renamed to Shinola (losing the apostrophe). Corn Products Company of Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey later merged with Best Foods, and sold tins of the product as "New Shinola Wax", featuring a revised formula, as well as selling in a liquid form. In a 1945 ad that ran in Popular Mechanics magazine, Shinola marketed itself as a wax that could also be used as a polish for scratches in furniture, a polish for linoleum, and a finish for toy models (e.g. airplanes).[4][8] By the 1950s, it was sold as "Shinola Leather and Saddle Soap" by RIT Products, a division of Best Foods. In 1960, the company went out of business and the brand ceased to be produced.[1][9]

In 2011, venture capitalist Tom Kartsotis bought the rights to the brand name, and created a new retail company. The company was founded in 2012, and produces watches and leather goods.[9][10]

Cultural impact[edit]

Shinola was immortalized in colloquial English by the phrase "You don't know shit from Shinola", which during World War II became widely popular and a barracks staple.[2][5] Some[who?] have even theorized that the popular expression was a long term detriment to the brand's identity.[11] Nevertheless, the company did try to find other evocative promotional phrases, e.g., "Your shoes are showing", which they used in advertisements.[4]



  1. ^ The original trademark was filed by the “2-in-1 Shinola-Bixby Corporation” in 1929.[2][3][4]
  2. ^ "The 'ola' suffix is popular in the USA as part of trade names, e.g. Crayola, Granola etc. This leads to the pronunciation of Shinola as shine + ola. That spoils the alliteration a little as it would work better as shin + ola."[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e Shilling, Donovan A. (February 15, 2011). "6 Getting to Know Shinola". Rochester's Remarkable Past. United States: Pancoast Concern, Limited. pp. 47–53. ISBN 978-0-9821090-7-6.
  2. ^ a b c d Dalzell, Tom; Partridge, Eric, eds. (2009). "shinola". The Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang and Unconventional English. New York: Routledge. p. 863. ISBN 978-0-41-537182-7.
  3. ^ a b "Trademark Status & Document Retrieval".
  4. ^ a b c "What is shinola, as mentioned in a certain old saying? 1940S, 1950S, 1960S, CULTURE & LIFESTYLE, VINTAGE ADVERTISEMENTS". Click Americana. February 5, 2020. Retrieved May 28, 2021.
  5. ^ a b Martin, Gary (2015). "Doesn't know shit from Shinola". Phrase Finder. Retrieved January 29, 2015. This phrase is typical of the barrack room vulgarity of WWII, which is where it originated. Other "doesn't know" phrases, also mostly from the military are, "doesn't know his arse from a hole in the ground" (or elbow, or a hot rock, or third base), "doesn't know enough to pee downwind", "doesn't know whether to scratch his watch or wind his ass". The tone is lifted a little by the English conductor Sir Henry Wood who expressed a similar opinion with "he doesn't know his brass from his woodwind".
  6. ^ Book of Industrial Rochester (PDF). Rochester, NY: Rochester Chamber of Commerce. 1919. p. 89.
  7. ^ Commercial America staff (July 1912), "Shinola Polish and Polishers". Commercial America. 9 (1):33
  8. ^ Popular Mechanics ad, 1945, p. 248
  9. ^ a b Klara, Robert (June 22, 2015). "How Shinola Went From Shoe Polish to the Coolest Brand in America". AdWeek.
  10. ^ "Our Story". C.A. Zoes Manufacturing. Archived from the original on December 5, 2016. Retrieved December 19, 2016.
  11. ^ a b Kovanchik, Kara (January 4, 2017). "POP CULTURE: 11 Golden Girls References Explained for Younger Viewers". Mental Floss. Minute Media. Retrieved May 26, 2021. Perhaps that's why the [Shinola] brand eventually went out of business; the Shinola folks couldn't come up with an advertising slogan that was more memorable than the insult.
  12. ^ "Shit from Shinola: The Jerk" (Video). Retrieved December 18, 2016 – via YouTube.
  13. ^ a b Phunky Phil. "Shit from Shinola in the Movies" (Video). Retrieved December 18, 2016 – via YouTube.
  14. ^ "Script, The Jerk". Retrieved December 18, 2016.
  15. ^ "Basic Instinct".
  16. ^ "Basic Instinct". Wikiquote. Retrieved December 18, 2016.
  17. ^ Parton, Dolly (September 2, 2008). "Dolly Parton - Shinola (Official Music Video)" (Video). Retrieved December 18, 2016 – via YouTube.
  18. ^ Moerder, Adam (September 21, 2005). "ROCK EXPERIMENTAL: Ween: Shinola, Vol. 1 CHOCODOG • 2005 7.6". Retrieved December 18, 2016. Dean and Gene issue an odds-and-sods collection of previously unreleased archival material
  19. ^ Shteamer, Hank (November 14, 2012). "COUNTING DOWN: Ween Albums From Worst To Best". Retrieved December 18, 2016.
  20. ^ Greenland, Tom (March 2, 2010). "John Scofield: Shinola". Retrieved August 27, 2013.
  21. ^ "Shinola". December 18, 2008. Archived from the original on May 28, 2021. Retrieved May 28, 2021.
  22. ^ Rutledge, James: BBC, "Filmmakers Shynola get animated with Collective.", August 29, 2003, Accessed online, May 27, 2015 Archived December 19, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ "George Carlin, Filthy Words". Exploring Constitutional Conflicts. Retrieved December 18, 2016. The following is a verbatim transcript of "Filthy Words" (the George Carlin monologue at issue in the Supreme Court case of FCC v. Pacifica Foundation) prepared by the Federal Communications Commission...
  24. ^ "Madvillain - All Caps lyrics". Retrieved October 13, 2019. Take it from the TEC-9 holder/They bit but don't know their neck shine from Shinola
  25. ^ Patrick, Vincent (July 15, 2014) [1979]. The Pope of Greenwich Village (Paperback). Vincent Patrick. p. 179. ISBN 978-0-9903923-0-9.
  26. ^ Pynchon, Thomas. Gravity's Rainbow (1995) [1973]. London: Penguin Books. pp. 687-688. ISBN 978-0-1401885-9-2

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

The dictionary definition of know shit from Shinola at Wiktionary