Justin Industries

By: Diana J. Kleiner

Type: General Entry

Published: February 1, 1995

Updated: June 13, 2020

Justin Industries, a diversified enterprise that began in boot manufacturing, is based in Fort Worth. The corporation consists of the Acme Brick Company, one of the nation's largest building-materials operations; Featherlite Building Products, a manufacturer of concrete building products; the Justin and Nocona Boot companies; Tradewinds Technologies, an evaporative cooler manufacturer; and Northland Publishing, which produces books on Western and Southwestern Americana, art, history, and Indian cultures. The Ceramic Cooling Tower Company, a subsidiary that engineered towers for utility, industrial, and commercial users, was sold in 1991.

The company began in 1879, when Indiana native and leather craftsman Herman J. Justin began custom-making boots for trailhands near the end of the railway just off the Chisholm Trail at Spanish Fort. At the time, government-issue boots quickly deteriorated, and stores that carried higher-quality boots were rare. Satisfied customers who passed Justin's name on to others were the source of new business for his handcrafted products. Rows of stitches, which Justin sewed across boot tops to stiffen them, in time turned into decoration. Justin also developed a measuring kit for customers to use on their own feet and developed a thriving mail-order business.

In 1889, when the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad extended past Spanish Fort to Nocona, Justin and most of the town moved there. Justin developed a family business that included his wife, Annie, who designed, cut, and fitted boots, and most of his seven children. Justin served as the principal salesman and expanded the firm to major western cities by taking examples of his product to stores. After John and Earl, the oldest of Justin's children, became full partners in 1908, the name of the firm was changed to H. J. Justin and Sons. After Justin's death in 1918, his sons encouraged innovations that slowly replaced handmade craftsmanship with machine production, and in 1924 the partnership incorporated as a Texas corporation.

The firm diversified when leather trimmings from the factory, used to make leather accessories when leather became scarce in World War I, became the basis for Justin Leatherworks. By 1925, faced with the need for large-scale shipping facilities, increased financing, and access to a larger labor force, the Justins responded to urgings from the Industrial Board of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce to relocate and moved the entire business to Fort Worth, where a factory and office complex were later constructed. Enid Justin, a sister who remained at Nocona and incorporated the Nocona Boot Company with seven employees in 1926, became one of the firm's major competitors. Between 1920 and 1940 manufacturing tripled, and the Great Depression had little effect on the firm; moreover, postwar cowboy films and enthusiasm for Western culture helped boost the market for Justin products. As Western men moved from horses to ground work, Justin further diversified by making field boots and lace boots. John Justin, Jr., who took over operations in the late 1940s, introduced the firm's first system of management as well as marketing and advertising techniques that expanded sales beyond the Southwest to the country as a whole. Justin Boot came to be known by its motto, the "Standard of the West," and associated with American-made products. In 1968 a merger of Justin Boot Company and Acme Brick resulted in the formation of the First Worth Corporation; the firm became Justin Industries in 1972. In 1981 Justin Industries acquired Nocona Boot's outstanding stock, making it a subsidiary. At that time, the consolidated firm had a capacity to manufacture 8,000 pairs of boots a day. Acquisition in 1985 of the Chippewa Shoe Company of Wisconsin, followed by opening of a new Chippewa manufacturing facility in Sarcoxie, Missouri, enabled the firm to expand into nonwestern shoe manufacture.

In the 1990s Justin manufactured boots in a 207-step process, employed 150 workers, used between five and seven square feet of leather per pair of boots, and had a plant in Fort Worth and three in Missouri. The company expanded into belts, hats, and biker boots, licensed South Beach to make and market Justin Jeans, and in 1990 acquired the Tony Lama Company, another Texas bootmaker. The firm employed many untrained and poorly educated Hispanics living in Fort Worth, for whom they provided insurance, health care, and pension benefits. Justin used a system of bonuses based on length of employment, quality of work, and absences. Justin Industries has been active in the preservation and restoration of the Fort Worth Stockyards and supports the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show. In 1988 sales amounted to $249,736,000.

Nocona News, November 25, 1938, August 28, 1974, March 5, 1981.

Time Periods:

  • Texas Post World War II


  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Diana J. Kleiner, “Justin Industries,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 08, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/justin-industries.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1995
June 13, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: