Forged by the Sea: The Beginnings of Paul Sperry

The United States Navy debuted a slogan in 2017 to resonate with sailors and “capture the essence” of their service to our nation. Little did they know “Forged by the Sea” described one sailor’s business success as well.

Among many things, the United States Armed Forces is known for creating familial connections and brotherhood. It’s also known for its professional and foundational starting point for American business leaders.

The American inventor of Sperry Topsiders, Paul Sperry, a prior Reserve Navy Seaman, First Class during World War I was no exception.

A Sperry ad from World War II

If you are not aware of Paul Sperry’s beginnings, you are, more than likely, aware of his shoes. Today, Sperry Topsiders is a household footwear option for the summer months and is also an effective go-to for sailors to prevent slips on a boat deck.

How did this come about?

“One day while out sailing, he fell overboard [from slipping on the painted deck]. After his fall, Sperry noticed that his dog, Prince, never lost his footing, even when running on ice. That was his lightbulb moment. Cutting patterned grooves, modeled after the texture he saw on Prince’s footpads, into rubber shoe soles (what we now call Wave SipingTM), Sperry developed the world’s first non-slip boat shoe. It’s also known as the “Authentic/Original” we now all know and love.”

More impressively, they were the first sailing shoe provided to mainstream sailors, as well as one of the “official” shoes of the United States Navy during World War II.

As someone who is familiar with Military contracting today, the idea of inventing a product that ends up being sold to the United States Navy is like a dream come true. For Paul Sperry, that dream began in 1939 when the U.S. Navy negotiated the right to manufacture the shoe for its sailors at the United States Naval Academy.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know today that was only his company’s beginning.

While most Americans know little about Sperry, it appears that the slogan “Forged by the Sea” applies even to his life-changing invention over seventy years ago. The importance of retelling stories of American inventors with Armed Force’s beginnings provides insight and relevance no matter the duration of time that has passed.

A college dropout and Naval Reservist became one of the most mass-produced names in American footwear history. A common denominator among many American business greats with military beginnings?

Inventing a solution for a field in which they find passion.

For Paul Sperry, both his company’s future and heritage, like all servicemen and women once in the Navy, was forged by the sea.

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