This week I have an entry in my occasional series about eponyms. An eponym is a a person or thing (real or fictional) for which an invention, discovery or object is named.
Today’s eponym is the wellington boot, more familiarly known in my house as a welly boot or wellie. Other terms for it include rubber boots, gumboots and, I love this one, Alaskan sneakers. They’ve been on my mind because I recently needed to edit a story of mine to work both for US and UK readers. My helpful American readers were stumped by the term “welly” and “wellington”.
The Wellington boot is named after Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington who spent his early life between Dublin and Trim, Co. Meath (not too far from my home). He asked his shoemaker (Hoby of London) to adapt an 18th century hessian boot to a more comfortable fit, with a small heel and stopping at mid-calf to take him from daytime battlefield to evening dinners. He’s pictured wearing the boots (with a dapper tassel) in an 1815 portrait and given his popularity it’s small wonder that they became the boots of choice for hunting and outdoor wear throughout the land.
An extraordinary man, his accomplishments extended far beyond the invention of the humble welly. Twice Prime Minister, he commanded the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, and remained the commander-in-chief of the British army until his death.
Originally made of leather, wellington boots moved to rubber when Hiram Hutchison met Charles Goodyear. The tyre man used vulcanization for car wheels while Hiram moved to France and established Aigle (eagle), in 1853, to make rubber boots. Farmers, previously shod in wooden clogs, loved the idea of clean dry feet after a day in the fields. If you have a small child who likes jumping in muddy puddles, wellies are what they need. Increasingly popular are fanciful patterns on adult boots, especially for attending muddy music festivals.
Interestingly, in Australia wellies are sometimes called Blucher boots after a colleague of Wellington’s at Waterloo. Before Nokia became known for mobile phones, their biggest product was wellingtons.
Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,