Hauenstein, north-west of Karlsruhe in present-day Rhineland-Palatinate, is a town of about 4,000 people, which was one of the principal centres of the Palatinate shoemaking industry. Large-scale domestic manufacture of shoes in the region began after the Napoleonic Wars when the craft of shoemaking was taken up by discharged soldiers at Pirmasens, 20 km. west of Hauenstein. The first factory in Hauenstein was established by the brothers Seibel in 1886, and the industry subsequently prospered. There were 20 factories in the town by 1914. During the Second World War the factories made boots for the Germany army, and employed some forced labour. The industry prospered during the German economic miracle of the 1950s when 34 factories were operating in the town. Subsequently, with the onset of competition from the Far East, shoemaking in Germany declined, and it is no longer the principal industry in Hauenstein.
The shoe museum, in a building of striking appearance in the Bauhaus style, covers the history of footwear over many centuries, but concentrates particularly on the industry in the Palatinate. Machines from the 1920s and 30s are demonstrated, and exhibits include a steam engine of the kind that drove machines by belt transmission in many factories in the region. One of the most valuable holdings is the Ernst-Tillmann-Sammlung, one of the largest collections of shoes in Europe, consisting of more than 3,500 pairs from many periods and from most parts of the world.