- Associated Press - Saturday, August 9, 2014

PRINCETON, Wis. (AP) - A museum in Princeton has shed new light on an old town treasure: Muk Luks.

The footwear’s popularity originated in Princeton. Matt Trotter, owner of Teak & Soxy in Princeton, remembers playing in the buildings where they were made as a child. His great grandparents made them the popular fashion statement they are today, Oshkosh Northwestern Media (https://oshko.sh/1nXzMfz ) reported.

He said locals didn’t even realize Muk Luks are from Princeton.

“There’s so many online,” Trotter said of Muk Luks today. “But these are the original.”

Trotter is a member the Princeton downtown revitalization group, The Shops of Water Street, which gathered Muk Luk artifacts and styles from 13 boxes of memorabilia and turned it into a museum. The Muk Luks museum opened in late June.

“We thought that’d be a great thing for the community,” Trotter said.

Walking into the museum is almost like taking a step back in time. Original Muk Luks are all about, as well as the tools that made them, boxes they’d be shipped in and much, much more.

On one wall, an old timecard reads:

“R. Wacholz

Can’t do dark socks - Bad eyes”

In 1938, Ernest and Martha Hiestand, Trotter’s great-grandparents, began selling crocheted socks Martha made. A traveling salesman, Ernest took “Handmade by Hiestand” socks on the road and soon enough Martha couldn’t crochet fast enough to fill the orders for them.

That started the Handcraft Co., and in 1940 they moved the business from their home to the Buckhorn Building, which is now a bar in Princeton with the same name. The business had a workforce of 25 people, switched to wool socks and soon Martha’s combination of socks with leather soles gave birth to a new brand - Muk Luks.

In 1960, Princeton was a town of 1,503, according to the census. The business continued to flourish, and at one point, employed 475. In a small town, Muk Luks were vital to the economy. It was housed in three different buildings over the years, one of which is now the site of Trotter’s store, Teak & Soxy.

From the 1940s to the 1960s, the fashionable Muk Luks were high in demand, with everyone from Judy Garland to babies sporting the comfy, high fashion socks. Handcraft Co. employees worked in the factories, as well as at home.

Berlyce Hebbe, 77, ventured into Muk Luk museum on July 25. While looking at old styles, she remembered her job during the 1960s on the sewing machine, in the building that’s now the site of Teak & Soxy. When Muk Luks were being made there it was called the American House Building.

“Almost everybody you talk to either worked at the factory or did home work,” she said, referencing employees who worked from the home and put finishing stitches on the Muk Luks.

She said the business made possible for women to stay home with their children and still work.

Reliable of Milwaukee, also a family-owned company since 1911, bought the Muk Luk brand in 1972. It expanded the line, which now comes in a plethora of styles and is sold online and in department stores all over the world.

Representatives from Reliable of Milwaukee took a visit to the museum to check out the Muk Luk’s past. Trotter said it was neat that the two companies finish each other’s stories.

John Johnson, Reliable of Milwaukee Executive Vice President, said he knew when the company was acquired from Handcraft Co., but he didn’t know the full age of the Muk Luk brand.

“The stories they shared of the employees at handcraft was similar to our same experiences with our employees in our Milwaukee and Campbellsport facilities,” Johnson said.

Trotter said opening the Muk Luk museum has opened up a whole new dialogue in town about Princeton’s history, as well as taught him a lot about things from his family’s past he’d only heard about.

“It’s a cross-generational thing, and I think that’s the coolest part about it,” Trotter said.


Information from: Oshkosh Northwestern Media, https://www.thenorthwestern.com

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