Shoeshiner or boot polisher is an occupation in which a person polishes shoes with shoe polish. They are often known as shoeshine boys because the job is traditionally that of a male child. Other synonyms are bootblack and shoeblack. While the role is deprecated in much of Western civilization, shining shoes is an important source of income for many children and families throughout the world. Some shoeshiners offer extra services, such as shoe repairs and general tailoring. Many well-known and high profile people started their working life as shoeshiners, including singers and presidents.
Shoe polish was not well known as a commercial product until the early 20th century. Throughout the late 19th century shoeshine boys plied their trade on the streets, particularly those in the cities of the United Kingdom.
The earliest known daguerreotype (photograph) of a human features a man having his shoes shined in the lower corner of the print. Though the image shows Paris' busy Boulevard du Temple, the long exposure time (about ten or twelve minutes) meant that moving traffic cannot be seen; however, the two men at lower left (one apparently having his boots polished by the other) remained still long enough to be distinctly visible.
The profession is common in many countries around the world, with the revenue earned by the shoeshiner being a significant proportion of a family income, particularly when the father of the family has died or can no longer work. In Afghanistan some children will work after school and can earn 100 Afghanis (around £1) each day. Many street children use shoeshining as their only means of income.
Some cities require shoeshiners to acquire licences in order to work legally. In August 2007 shoeshiners in Mumbai, India were told that they could no longer work on the railway stations due to "financial irregularities". Every Shoeshine Association was asked to reapply for their licence, with many worried that they would lose out to a rival.
In the UK, shoeshiners are often found working in business districts where professionals congregate. There is an increasingly enlightened attitude toward the shoeshiner that removes the old fashioned hierarchical standpoint. The shoeshiner is perceived as an informational hub, studiously polishing and buffing whilst dispensing helpful advice on local affairs and events.
Several high profile figures worked as shoeshiners at one point of their lives:
- Mahmoud Ahmed – Ethiopian singer
- James Brown – "The Godfather of Soul". He used to shine shoes and sing and dance on Ninth Street in Augusta, Georgia; in 1993 the road was renamed "James Brown Boulevard" in his honour.
- Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – later President of Brazil
- Alejandro Toledo – later President of Peru
- Malcolm X – worked as a shoeshine boy at a Lindy Hop nightclub in New York City
- Rod Blagojevich – later Governor of Illinois
- Sammy Sosa Former Dominican baseball player predominately for the Chicago Cubs 
- Čika Mišo, last Bosnian shoeshiner
- Ego Brown, shoeshine artist, defeated Jim Crow laws against shoeshining.
Portrayal in popular culture
Shoeshiners have featured in:
Film and television
- Le Havre, Aki Kaurismäki, 2011
- The Adventures of Timothy Pilgrim, a 1975 Canadian children's TV series
- Boot Polish, a 1954 Hindi film
- El Bolero de Raquel, 1956 Mexican film starring Cantinflas
- Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese's 1990 gangster film, features a scene in which hair trigger-tempered Lucchese crime family wiseguy, Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), brutally beats Gambino crime family mobster, Billy Batts (Frank Vincent), for insulting him about being a shoeshine boy in Tommy's younger days. The film is based on the real-life experiences of Henry Hill and the people he met through the Vario brothers, who owned a shoeshine stand and other businesses. In real life, William "Billy Batts" Devino taunted Thomas "Two Gun Tommy" DeSimone, calling him "spit-shine Tommy". DeSimone retorted by yelling, "Shine these fuckin' shoes", and then executing Batts.
- Shoe Shine Boy, a 1943 film musical
- Shoeshine, a 1946 Italian film which received honours at the 1948 Academy Awards
- Underdog, an animated television series in which an anthropomorphic dog, Shoeshine Boy, battles crime as the titular canine superhero.
- Parks and Recreation, an American TV show, in which one of the main characters gets a job shining shoes.
Literature and publications
- Ragged Dick, an 1867 dime novel by Horatio Alger, Jr. about a poor but honest shoeshiner and his rise to middle-class comfort and respectability through good moral behavior, clean living, and determination. Shine!, a musical based on Alger's work, particularly Ragged Dick, was produced in 1982.
- Rajbahadur Bakhia the arch-villain in novels of Surender Mohan Pathak, was originally a shoeshiner at flora fountain area of Mumbai, and had his introduction with underworld over a payment dispute with a small time gangster who refused to pay him.
- Scrooge McDuck, the Dell Comics character, famously won his Number One Dime shining shoes.
- "Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy", a song performed by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra amongst others
- The opening lines of "Chattanooga Choo Choo" are dialogue between a passenger and a shoeshine boy
- Easby, Rebecca Jeffrey. "Daguerre's Paris Boulevard". Retrieved 8 January 2014.
- HASCO. "Poverty forces Afghan children to quit school to work". Accessed 20 August 2007.
- BBC News. "Photo journal: Kabul's street children". Accessed 20 August 2007.
- Yahoo! News India. 6 August 2007. "Mumbai plans to 'polish' off its shoeshine boys". Accessed 20 August 2007.
- Cartwright, Garth. BBC News. 2007. "Mahmoud Ahmed". Accessed 20 August 2007.
- Rogers, Richard. WRDW. 25 December 2006. "James Brown: Legend, believer, Augusta son". Accessed 24 August 2007.
- Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau. "James Brown Boulevard". Accessed 24 August 2007.
- Smith, Rodney. BBC News. 13 January 2003. "Brazil braces for testing times". Accessed 20 August 2007.
- BBC News. 8 April 2001. "Toledo: Shoeshine boy turned economist". Accessed 20 August 2007.
- Cooper, Kenneth J. The Boston-Bay State Banner. 16 February 2006. "February 021606-03.htm Malcolm: The Boston years". Accessed 24 August 2007.
- SparkNotes. "SparkNotes: The Autobiography of Malcolm X". Accessed 24 August 2007.
- Copley News Service. Three Democrats battle for party's nomination for governor. March 9, 2002.
- Congressional Record, V. 144, Pt. 14, September 9, 1998 to September 21, 1998
- Allan May. "The Lufthansa Heist Revisited: The End of Tommy DeSimone". TruTV.com TruCrimeLibrary. Retrieved 12 December 2010.
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