The story of the modern Veterans Day begins in 1953 at a Kansas shoe store. Up until then, every November 11th Americans celebrated Armistice Day, a holiday commemorating the signing of the treaty that ended World War I. By the 1950s though, with a second World War come and gone, folks were less keen on remembering a peace that – oh yeah – didn’t work so well.
Enter Alfred King. The shoe salesman in Emporia, Kansas (2000 Census population: 26,760) had a son fight in World War II and decided that veterans, who didn’t die (after all, they had Memorial Day), deserved celebrating more than a failed treaty. He campaigned tirelessly to change the holiday, starting at home; in 1953, Emporia became the first town in America to celebrate Veterans Day. The idea caught on and, with help from a local congressman, the issue moved to Washington. On October 8, 1954 President Dwight Eisenhower officially changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day. All thanks to one small-town shoe salesman.