Carl Franz Bally (1821–99)

Carl Franz Bally was one of Europe’s leading shoe manufacturers in the 19th century and established a brand that is still powerful more than a century after his death. He was born at Schönenwerd in the canton of Solothurn in Switzerland where his grandfather Franz Ulrich Bohli (1748-1810) had settled and established a silk ribbon factory after migrating from Voralberg in the Habsburg Empire.

Carl Bally entered the family business at the age of 17 but subsequent travelled in order to gain experience in business, and while staying in Paris was inspired to set up a shoemaking business which he did on his return to Schönenwerd in 1851. He was successful and set up sales organisations for his shoes in Paris in 1870, and subsequently in Geneva, London and in Argentina and Uruguay. The company had 500 employees by 1860, and 3,200 by 1900 when it was manufacturing two million pairs of shoes per annum. The company was philanthropic in outlook and set up social facilities for its workpeople and schools for their children.

After Bally’s death the company was carried on by successive generations of his descendants. The company’s history and many other aspects of the history of footwear are commemorated in museums at Schönenwerd.