BUSTER BROWN'S ORIGIN
AND THE COMIC STRIP
by Ronald L. Smith
Here's more than you'll ever want to know about the origin of Buster Brown shoes and the creation of the Buster Brown
In 1878, George Warren Brown and Alvin Bryan started the Bryan, Brown and Company manufacturing plant in St. Louis. Their
big product was Brown Shoes, and in 1893 that became the company name. That's about as dull and plain as a brown shoe gets.
Meanwhile, in 1902, a fellow named Richard F. Outcault was launching a new comic strip in New York. The strip would offer
the adventures of a sissified kid named Buster Brown. Why? Because Outcault was trying to make a radical change from his earlier
comic strip, The Yellow Kid.
Back around the turn of the century, The Yellow Kid had run afoul of bluenoses, and that was interfering with Outcault
earning his green. Some wordsmiths insist that the term "yellow journalism" was a derisive term referring to "the
yellow papers," the newspapers sleazy enough to carry the appalling antics of The Yellow Kid.
The Yellow Kid, like subsequent blond brats Dennis the Menace and Bart Simpson, had become a great marketing item. Only
instead of t-shirts, The Yellow Kid turned up hawking such adult products as beer and alcohol!
Outcault finally gave in and decided to create a new kid hero, an upscale boy with a milder streak of mischief. Think:
The Yellow Kid is to the Three Stooges what Buster Brown is to The Cosby Show.
Buster Brown was a wholesome little fellow. Yes, he sometimes got a little wayward, but he respected his elders and when he
learned his lesson, he never repeated the bad behavior, he didn't, he didn't. Unlike a certain frog who, decades later, would
invade the Buster Brown comic books!
Outcault journeyed to the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, intent on marketing the new character for ads, posters, and
any other product he could find.
The fair, which had its own theme song in "Meet Me in St. Louis" was a rousing success and amid the greed and
merriment Richard Outcault, Buster Brown hawker, met up with George Warren Brown, Brown Shoe maker. It was a perfect fit.
Of all the licenses Outcault sold, the one to the Brown Shoe company proved the most lucrative. The Brown Shoe Company
took an aggressive marketing approach for their new Buster Brown line. They hired short people (at the time, the term was
"midgets") to impersonate Buster Brown at stores and theaters.
Sometimes Buster Brown brought along his doge Tige and an entire cast for shows. That type of thing definitely brought
the rubes 'a running. The idea was so successful that the idea of a grown-up Buster was continued throughout the run of Smilin'
Ed and Andy's Gang on TV, Buster Brown was played not by a child, but by an adult, Jerry Narron.
For many, Jerry's squealing commercial that begins "I'm Buster Brown, I live in a shoe..." still resonates....
And many can probably sing that gently lilting Buster Brown shoe song....
DOES YOUR SHOE HAVE A DOG INSIDE??
WHAT A FUNNY PLACE FOR A DOG TO HIDE
DOES YOUR SHOE HAVE A BOY THERE TOO
A BOY AND A DOG AND A FOOT IN A SHOE
WELL THE BOY IS BUSTER BROWN
AND THE DOG IS TIGE HIS FRIEND.
AND ITS REALLY JUST A PICTURE
BUT ITS FUN TO PLAY PRETEND!
SO LOOK, LOOK, LOOK
IN YOUR TELEPHONE BOOK
FOR THE STORE THAT SELLS THE SHOE
WITH THE PICTURE OF THE BOY AND THE DOG INSIDE
THAT YOU CAN PUT YOUR FOOT INTO
The "Buster Brown" shoe line still exists, but the Brown Shoe Company rakes in $1.6 billion in sales with the help
of other brands such as Naturalizer, LifeStride and Connie shoes for women.
In 2002 NPR radio's Morning Edition celebrated the 100 year anniversary of the Outcault strip. Reporter Elizabeth Blair
described the series this way: "In almost every strip, Buster Brown wore short pants, a little jacket, and dainty Victorian
shoes and sometimes a wide, saucer-rimmed hat. His family was rich, which appealed to upper class New Yorkers."
At the end of his adventures, Buster Brown would often insist: 'I'm sorry I was bad, I promise never to do that again,
I'll be a good boy from now on.'
Yes, Froggy the Gremlin's "I'll be good, I will, I will," came directly from Buster Brown.
Today, the "Buster Brown" comic strip is an obscure memory, and "The Yellow Kid" likewise forgotten
(although forgiven; he did get immortalized on a U.S. postage stamp!) Froggy the Gremlin...LIVES! He does...he does...
Thanks for taking the detour through the world of Outcault and Brown shoes. Hope you learned a few things and are now
a better person for it.