"Shoeshine boy" redirects here. For other uses, see Shoeshine boy (disambiguation).
For shoeshining effect in tape drives, see Tape drive § Technical problems.
A boot polisher on a railway platform in Mumbai, India.

Shoeshiner or boot polisher is an occupation in which a person polishes shoes with shoe polish. They are often known as shoeshine boys because the job is traditionally that of a male child. Other synonyms are bootblack and shoeblack. While the role is deprecated in much of Western civilization, shining shoes is an important source of income for many children and families throughout the world. Some shoeshiners offer extra services, such as shoe repairs and general tailoring. Many well-known and high-profile people started their working life as shoeshiners, including singers and presidents.


The earliest reliably dated photograph of a person, taken in spring 1838 by Daguerre.

Shoe polish was not well known as a commercial product until the early 20th century. Throughout the late 19th century shoeshine boys plied their trade on the streets, particularly those in the cities of the United Kingdom.

The earliest known daguerreotype (photograph) of a human features a man having his shoes shined in the lower corner of the print.[1] Though the image shows Paris' busy Boulevard du Temple, the long exposure time (about ten or twelve minutes) meant that moving traffic cannot be seen; however, the two men at lower left (one apparently having his boots polished by the other) remained still long enough to be distinctly visible.

(video) A shoeshiner in Japan, 2016
The Independent Shoe-Black by John Thomson, 1877.
Shoeshiner at work in Tepotzotlan, Mexico.
Shoeshiner at work in Porto, Portugal

Modern profession

The profession is common in many countries around the world, with the revenue earned by the shoeshiner being a significant proportion of a family income, particularly when the father of the family has died or can no longer work.[2] In Afghanistan some children will work after school and can earn 100 Afghanis (around £1) each day.[3] Many street children use shoeshining as their only means of income.

Some cities require shoeshiners to acquire licences in order to work legally. In August 2007 shoeshiners in Mumbai, India were told that they could no longer work on the railway stations due to "financial irregularities". Every Shoeshine Association was asked to reapply for their licence, with many worried that they would lose out to a rival.[4]

In the UK, shoeshiners are often found working in business districts where professionals congregate. The shoeshiner is perceived as an informational hub, studiously polishing and buffing whilst dispensing helpful advice on local affairs and events.

Famous shoeshiners

Several high profile figures worked as shoeshiners at one point of their lives:

Shoeshiners have featured in:

Film and television

Literature and publications


See also


  1. Easby, Rebecca Jeffrey. "Daguerre's Paris Boulevard". Retrieved 8 January 2014.
  2. HASCO. "Poverty forces Afghan children to quit school to work". Accessed 20 August 2007.
  3. BBC News. "Photo journal: Kabul's street children". Accessed 20 August 2007.
  4. Yahoo! News India. 6 August 2007. "Mumbai plans to 'polish' off its shoeshine boys". Accessed 20 August 2007.
  5. Cartwright, Garth. BBC News. 2007. "Mahmoud Ahmed". Accessed 20 August 2007.
  6. Rogers, Richard. WRDW. 25 December 2006. "James Brown: Legend, believer, Augusta son". Accessed 24 August 2007.
  7. Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau. "James Brown Boulevard". Accessed 24 August 2007.
  8. Smith, Rodney. BBC News. 13 January 2003. "Brazil braces for testing times". Accessed 20 August 2007.
  9. BBC News. 8 April 2001. "Toledo: Shoeshine boy turned economist". Accessed 20 August 2007.
  10. Cooper, Kenneth J. The Boston-Bay State Banner. 16 February 2006. "February 021606-03.htm Malcolm: The Boston years". Accessed 24 August 2007.
  11. SparkNotes. "SparkNotes: The Autobiography of Malcolm X". Accessed 24 August 2007.
  12. Copley News Service. Three Democrats battle for party's nomination for governor. March 9, 2002.
  13. Congressional Record, V. 144, Pt. 14, September 9, 1998 to September 21, 1998
  14. Allan May. "The Lufthansa Heist Revisited: The End of Tommy DeSimone". TruCrimeLibrary. Retrieved 12 December 2010.
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