Zachary Austin DoleshalFeb 7, 2022
In the Kingdom of Shoes
Bata, Zlín, Globalization, 1894-1945
University of Toronto Press 2021
One of the world's largest sellers of footwear, the Bata Company of Zlín, Moravia has a remarkable history that touches on crucial aspects of what made the world modern. In the twilight of the Habsburg Empire, the company Americanized its production model while also trying to Americanize its workforce. It promised a technocratic form of governance in the chaos of postwar Czechoslovakia, and during the Roaring Twenties, it became synonymous with rationalization across Europe and thus a flashpoint for a continent-wide debate. While other companies contracted in response to the Great Depression, Bata did the opposite, becoming the first shoe company to unlock the potential of globalization.
As Bata expanded worldwide, it became an example of corporate national indifference, where company personnel were trained to be able to slip into and out of national identifications with ease. Such indifference, however, was seriously challenged by the geopolitical crisis of the 1930s, and by the cusp of the Second World War, Bata management had turned nationalist, even fascist.
Zachary Austin Doleshal's book In the Kingdom of Shoes: Bata, Zlín, Globalization, 1894-1945 (U Toronto Press, 2021) unravels the way the Bata project swept away tradition and enmeshed the lives of thousands of people around the world in the industrial production of shoes. Using a rich array of archival materials from two continents, the book answers how Bata's rise to the world's largest producer of shoes challenged the nation-state, democracy, and Americanization.
Leslie Waters is a historian of modern Central and Eastern Europe and assistant professor at The University of Texas at El Paso.