The term ‘bootstrapping’ is today commonly applied to businesses started by entrepreneurs drawing upon their own meager resources, rather than outside investment. It derives from the phrase “to pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps”, which was first used in the early 19th century to indicate an impossible task: there’s no way a man can elevate himself by tugging on the tabs at the back of his boots, now, is there?
For the founders of Northampton shoemakers Crockett & Jones, establishing their own business initially seemed equally unachievable. In the early 1870s, brothers-in-law James Crockett and Charles Jones were barely making ends meet on the earnings from their jobs as clickers — the craftsmen responsible for cutting from a hide the pieces to form a shoe’s uppers. Saving the capital necessary to set up a shoe factory of their own? Bah. Impossible!
Fortunately, several centuries earlier, a prosperous London cloth merchant and politician named Sir Thomas White had been overcome by a strong charitable impulse. He used his ample wealth to establish St John’s College, Oxford, funded numerous scholarships, and helped found the Merchant Taylors’ School. (Thanks to his generosity, White won a place on a 1592 list of the ‘Nine Worthies of London’, a kind of Tudor-period precursor to Forbes’ annual Heroes of Philanthropy.)