HistoryThe Birkenstock brand traces its roots to the Johann Adam Birkenstock, registered in 1774 as a "vassal and shoemaker" in local church archives in small Hessian village of Langen-Bergheim. In 1897 Johann's grandson Konrad Birkenstock developed the first contoured insole for use by shoemakers in the production of custom footwear. 1902 saw the development of the first flexible arch-support for insertion into factory-made shoes; and in 1964, Karl Birkenstock developed these inserts into a shoe — thus producing the original prototype of the Birkenstock sandal.
Since 1967 these shoes have been sold in the USA, as well as elsewhere. American Margot Fraser "discovered" Birkenstock sandals while on a holiday in Germany. She gained relief from a foot condition, and founded a trading company called Birkenstock Footprint Sandals, Inc., in Novato, California, based on her enthusiasm for the sandals. Renamed Birkenstock Distribution USA, Inc., in 2005, the company remained until 2007 the exclusive importer and distributor of Birkenstock name-brand products in the United States.
In the United States, Birkenstock first became popular among young men and later on among flower children, a group traditionally associated with American liberalism; in the early 1990s "Birk" enjoyed a surge of popularity among high-school and college-aged Generation Xers comparable to the 2000s popularity of Crocs. During the 2004 U.S. presidential primary, some conservatives derided Howard Dean's supporters as "Birkenstock liberals". As of 2013 Birkenstock continue to enjoy high popularity with teenagers and college-aged young adults.
Union avoidance and bustingThe Birkenstock Company, mainly under Karl Birkenstock, has a long history of union busting. The management split factories to discourage elections and had family members involved in counter organizing. Between the 1980s and 1996, more than 100 legal proceedings by unions and works council against the management were successful; once Karl Birkenstock had to pay DM 15,000 for calling a representative an "idiot". Mitglied des Bundestags Ulrich Schmalz called Birkenstock a despot, stuck in the 19th century.
Sie werden ganz zu Recht wie Aussätzige behandelt und verachtet. Und das ist auch das mindeste, was angemessen ist. You are rightly treated as lepers and scorned. That is the minimum of what is appropriate.
— Karl Birkenstock