Brothers William (Bill) and F.M. (Mike) Brooks took a leap of faith during the Great Depression and moved their families from Columbus to Nelsonville to start a shoe factory in Southeastern Ohio. In search of opportunity, the brothers set up shop in a rent-free factory with lent equipment and the William Brooks Shoe Co. was born. The factory employed 225 people and production output increased to more than 2,000 pairs per day. During the 1940s and 1950s business continued to grow. While supplying more than one million pairs of shoes and boots for military conflicts such as World War II and the Korean War, the company built key relationships with leading footwear retailers such as Sears, Roebuck and Co., JCPenney, Kinney Shoe and Thom McAn.In 1946 F.M. Brooks left Nelsonville; however his son, John Brooks, age 25, chose to remain in the area and continued to raise a family with his wife Gloria - who that year gave birth to their first son Mike Brooks.
In the late 1950s, William Brooks decided to sell the William Brooks Shoe Co. to the Irving Drew Shoe Co. based in Lancaster, OH. Although disappointed over the sale of the business, John Brooks continued to work for the company under new ownership.Footwear manufacturing in the U.S. languished throughout the 1960's. Production facilities closed and, eventually, the former William Brooks Shoe Co. factory became outdated. As a result, Irving Drew was ready to either sell or shut down the factory by 1975 and John Brooks grasped the opportunity to do what he wanted to do 15 years earlier.John Brooks took on the venture of owning a shoe company. "I say that was the new birth of the business. We probably didn't have one chance in a hundred to survive. We should have been just another shoe company that tried and didn't make it, and there's hundreds of them." said Mike Brooks, who immediately quit his job at a Milwaukee tannery and returned to Nelsonville. When John Brooks bought back the company, he simply planned to run a small family business…but his son had other, bigger ideas.By the late 1970s, Mike Brooks decided it was time for the company to have its own brand name. Looking for a rugged, outdoorsy name, he chose Rocky. And with that name the Rocky brand was born! "The big chance was moving away from just making shoes up for retailers to building a brand and investing in that and getting a foothold on a brand that we could get higher margins off of," said Mike Brooks. "That started in the late 1970s and progressed into the 1980s."With Mike Brooks at the helm, the company continued to grow throughout the 1980s and, following a hugely successful SHOT show in 1984, Rocky moved steadfastly forward investing more time, money and energy in the hunting business. Now an innovator in the hunting arena, in 1989 Rocky introduced a waterproof boot made with DuPont's Cordura® fabric and became one of the first licensees of Gore-Tex®. Outdoor and sporting goods stores, along with small upstart retailers such as Dick's Sporting Goods, Cabela's, Bass Pro and Gander Mountain were selling Rocky products across the country.In Mike Brooks words "It's just been a wonderful ride, with a lot of heartaches along the way and a lot of successes," he said. "To me, it's the American dream, I'm very fortunate to live in a small community and have family members that make a difference in the business. They're very proud, and I'm very proud. We have a drive to come to work every day. We're not the smartest, we're not the brightest, but we have a good work ethic. There's a lot of ways to beat people, and one is to just outwork them. That's part of our secret."