Hi and thank you again for reading this article about the history of shoes, especially the history of sneakers. If you search for information about the history of sneakers (starting with the first shoes), it goes something like this:
Earliest Shoes and Who Owned Them:
The earliest shoes were discovered in a cave in Armenia way back around 3000+ BC. They were a moccasin type shoe, made from animal skin. For many centuries only the very wealthy could even contemplate owning a pair of shoes. Only from the 19th Century, when mass-production processes and technology advances came about, was owning a pair of shoes a possibility for us common folk.
776 BC, Greek athletes run barefoot in the Olympics. Soon after they begin running in sandals to protect their feet.
There’s folk-lore that King Henry VIII owned a pair (the first pair ever) of tennis shoes in 1517. This factoid will need further investigation to verify!
Modern History of Sneakers:
In short we go from plimsolls to rubber soled Keds to “sneakers”, athletic shoes and basketball shoes to the sneaker universe – where it’s not just about footwear, it’s a lot more about us and our sneakers.
History of Sneakers Timeline:
1830’s – Walt Webster patents a process whereby rubber soles could be attached to shoes or boots. The result was…. Plimsolls. Plimsolls were crude first generation kicks, which didn’t even have left and right feet!
1832 – Charles Goodyear invents “vulcanization” – the process of heating rubber and adding sulphur to improve the strength and flexibility of the rubber. Vulcanization helps to prevent rubber from becoming brittle in Winter or sticky in Summer and makes it easier to make rubber-soled shoes.
1864 – Lyman Reed Blake of America invents a shoe-stitching machine. The shoe and sneaker universe is about to change.
1890’s – The US Rubber Co makes a canvas-uppered shoe with rubber soles. Rubber soled sneakers were more comfortable and flexible than other shoes, making them ideal for a spot of croquet, tennis, yachting, running or even a game of cricket (by joves, lovely shot old chap!).
By the end of the 1800’s and into the early 1900’s sports and outdoor pursuits were rising in popularity. Two companies emerged as icons of the new sport-shoe universe – Keds and Converse.
1900’s Converse All Stars
1912 – the first tennis shoes are produced.
1917 – Sneakers are now being mass produced.
Also in 1917, the world’s first and most iconic basketball shoe is released, the Converse All Star. A year later in 1918, Charles H Taylor of the Akron Firestones basketball club, bought his first pair of Converse All Stars and through his playing, introduced them to America.
1921 – Charles “Chuck” Taylor officially joins the Converse Shoe Co and promotes the Converse All Star. This is one of the first ever player endorsements. By 1923, Chuck Taylor’s signature is added to the Converse All Stars patch. Converse and basketball in America grow up together and the Converse All Star is the go-to-shoe for basketballers, from high-school to professional. “Chucks” are to this day not just an American, but a world icon on basketball courts everywhere.
1949 PRO-Keds is established. The first shoe released is the Royal, a hi-top canvas basketball shoe.
1950’s George Mikan of the Minneapolis Lakers endorses the PRO-Keds Royals.
1953-54 Minneapolis Lakers wear PRO-Keds Royals during their NBA Championship victory.
1969 the PRO-Keds Super is launched, also known as the 69er.
1970-80 the Royal Master, aka Royal Plus is launched, with suede uppers and a padded collar.
1981 Legend of boxing, Sugar Ray Leonard, joins PRO-Keds as a spokesman.
2000’s PRO-Keds focusses on 5 classic styles – the Royal, the Royal Master, The Royal Plus, the 69er and the Royal CVO.
2016 Pro-KEDS is globally relaunched.
Dassler Brothers Shoe Company:
1923 – Cobbler Adolp Dassler begins making handmade sports shoes. In 1924, Adolp (“Adi”) goes into business with his brother, Rudolph and forms the Dassler Brothers Shoe Company. The company is based in the brothers’ hometown of Herzogenaurach, Germany. By 1927 the Dassler Brothers are producing 100 pairs of shoes per day. Specialised shoes with metal spikes in the soles are made by the Dasslers out of goat skin. These running spikes are used by sprinters and middle distance runners.
In 1928, the spikes are used for the first time at the Amsterdam Olympics.
1932 – at the Los Angeles Olympics German Arthur Jonath wins Bronze in the 100m sprint wearing Dassler Brothers’ shoes.
1936 – Jesse Owens brings Dassler Brothers Shoe Company its finest moment at the Berlin Olympics. Wearing Dassler Brothers spikes, Owens wins four Olympic gold medals in the 100m, 200m, 4 x 100m relay and broad-jump. This success lead to growth for the Dassler Brothers and by 1938, they were making 30 different types of shoes.
The Dassler Brothers had a serious falling out over politics leading up to and during World War 2. Eventually the part company and go onto to form their own companies.
1948 – Rudolph Dassler establishes Puma.
1949 – Adolp (“Adi”) registers his new company – Adidas (made up from his name Adi–Dassler).
The 3 stripes of the Adidas logo is recognized the world over.
The early Puma logo – a cat jumping through the “D” has changed over time, but has kept its origins. I think the retro-logo could do with a comeback. What do you think?
A word about (the word) “Sneakers”:
The term “sneakers” came into use with the release of rubber soled shoes. Rubber soles, being much quieter than other shoes of the late 1800’s era, allowed the wearer to sneak around. In 1862 woman-prison inmates referred to their rubber-soled shoes as “sneaks”. Who first coined the term “sneakers” is not clear, but in 1870 the word “sneaker” was registered as a word referring to canvas shoes with rubber soles.
Fast forward again to the 70’s and 80’s – fitness, jogging, running, aerobics and working out at the gym are all the rage. As are sports person player endorsements. One symbol to represent this, and much much more to follow.
So that’s of a basic history of sneakers, based on my search of online and local library resources. What about Nike? What about Reebok? British Knights, New Balance? And many more? I’m making a list for future exploration. If you have more information you can share to add or improve this history of sneakers picture, please contact me. I think we’re ready to look deeper into the history of sneakers and explore the sneaker universe together. Shall we?
Best, best, best to you