“Kiwi” became THE nickname for New Zealanders and the national symbol of the country thanks to… Kiwi shoe polish.
At the start of the 20th century, there were several nicknames and symbols for New Zealanders, none of them dominant. Among others, symbols included the moa (another bird), the silver fern (the symbol of many New Zealand sports teams, including the famous All Blacks rugby team), the kiwi bird and the Southern Cross constellation, which is still on the New Zealand flag:
In 1906 an Australian named William Ramsay developed the shoe polish, which he named after his New Zealander wife, Annie Elizabeth Meek. There were other shoe polishes on the market, but Ramsay’s was one of the first to emphasize making shoes and boots shine, in addition to restoring their color and water-resistance.
Ramsay loaded several cases of the polish onto a cart and traveled to farms handing out free tins to farmers for their work boots. Kiwi rapidly became the best-selling shoe polish brand in Australia. But Kiwi’s big break came in World War I, when the British and American armies started distributing the polish to soldiers. Millions of men became familiar with not just the product, but the “Kiwi” name, too. Soon, everyone was calling New Zealanders “Kiwis”.
Today Kiwi shoe polish is sold in 180 countries and holds 53% of the worldwide market for shoe polish. But even more than that, it’s the only product to give a nation’s citizens their nickname!