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Sneakers History

Updated on August 25, 2012

Sneakers Come in Many Choices

Sneakers come in all colors and many styles
Sneakers come in all colors and many styles | Source

Early Invention of Sneakers

The history and invention of sneakers evolved through many companies, many people, and many decades. From the 19th century, through today, sneakers have become one of the most popular foot coverings for fashion and athletic purposes.

In the 1830’s the Liverpool Rubber Company in England manufactured the first shoe with a rubber sole, called a plimsoll. It had a rubber sole and canvas top. It was a sand shoe and worn primarily at the beach.

In the meantime, in the U.S., it was Wait Webster of New York, in 1832,who received the 1st U.S. patent for shoes made with rubber soles.

The Mistake Invention that Revolutionized Sneakers

When sneakers were first made, they were manufactured with India rubber. Charles Goodyear, the tire giant, had a big role in the creation of sneaker.

Back in 1839, he was trying to make mail bags for the U.S. government, that were rubber coated. The hot weather caused the rubber to turn sticky. The cold weather caused the rubber to turn brittle. In an attempt to correct the problems, he added sulfur to the rubber and subjected it to high temperature. The result of his creation made the rubber more elastic. amd gave rubber greater flexibility in all kinds of weather.

It also was able to be bonded to other materials He called his new accidental invention, vulcanized rubber, and started making vulcanized rubber galoshes in the 1840’s. Vulcanization is still used today to meld fabric and rubber together.

Running shoes that had spikes were introduced in 1852. As the popularity of bicycles began to increase in the 1860’s and 1870’s, it made the need for shoes without heels more desirable. The invention of the sewing maching that could chain stitch in the 1860’s, allowed the upper, lower and the inner parts of the sneaker to be sewn together.

JW Foster was one of the first companies, in the late 1890’s to manufacture soft soled shoes for athletic purposes. The company was later renamed Reebok, for a fast moving gazelle, called rhebok.

Companies Manufactured Tires and Sneakers

In the 1870’s Goodyear made rubber and canvas tennis shoes that were the precursor to sneakers.

The U.S. Rubber Company bought Goodyear Shoe Company in 1892 and started making rubber soled shoes. This division of the company started marketing 30 different brands of their sneakers.

In 1917, they decided to put all their sneakers under one name and called the brand of sneakers, Keds. Keds were the first mass marketed canvas top sneakers.

The United States Rubber Company formed the Naugatuck Chemical Company to make the sulfuric acid for the rubber for their keds.The plant, which was located on Elm Street and the railroad, had 43 buildings on twenty acres along the Naugatuck River. They employed 160 people.

In 1946, the company started to work on synthethic rubber and other products to make varied types of waterproof and canvas foot coverings. Naugahyde was a product invented while trying to come up with synthetic rubber. Naugahyde was made as a fireproof for upholstery use by substituting a plastic compound for the rubber.

Vibrin was also invented and came to be used as the outer casing for the rubber fuel tanks on planes. It was also used for clock cases and for lightweight boats. Naugatuck Chemical company became an integral part of creating many products that may not have been invented otherwise.

Famous Companies and Name Brand Sneakers

Sneakers started to become very popular after WW1, when sports become part of the patriotic fabric of the United States. The demand for sneakers grew and grew as the sneakers were endorsed by famous athletes.

The Spalding Company featured 3 different types of spiked shoes in their 1894 catalog.

The first company to manufacture sports shoes was founded in Boulton U.K. in the 1890’s, and made shoes for the 1924 Olympics.

In 1908, a man named Marquis Converse started a sneaker company, called the Converse Rubber Company.They made shoes and tires. In the next few years, the company designed the first baskeball sneaker with a distinctive diamond design on the sole of the shoe, called Converse All Stars. These were sneakers that sat higher up on the ankle. Chuck Taylor endorsed these shoes and they were called Chuck Taylor All Stars, since then, they have became the best selling basketball shoes in history.

In 1924, a man named Adi Dassler created Adidas sneakers, and became the most athletic shoe in the world.He became known as the father of today’s running shoe.

Sneakers have constantly undergone changes to enhance the athletic performance of those wearing them. In the early days of football, leather cleats were worn by the players. In the 1920’s, the removable cleat was invented, and continued to be standard footgear for many decades. Now football cleats are molded with different patterns on the sole of the shoe.

Advancements in Sneakers

Jessie Owens, who was an olympic track star, wore the sneakers in the 1936 Olympics. Jessie Owens won 4 gold medals in that Olympics. By 1948, he and his brother founded Adidas. Shortly after, he and his brother Rudi split. Rudi started Puma sneakers. Puma became the first in 1968, to use velcro to fasten sneakers.

In the 1970’s technology started to make great advancements towards athletic footwear. EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) was invented which is a plastic, made up of millions of little air bubbles to provide greater cushioning and help absorb shocks, as our feet hit the ground. EVA revolutionized the design and construction of athletic shoes.


In 1979, Nike put air bubbes as a type of cushion in the heel of the sneaker. This became technological breakthrough in sneakers by lessening the impact of running on the feet, and helped further the advancements Nike would make in the future.

As time progressed, sneakers have become more specialized with value added features for the different uses of the athletic shoes.

By 1984, Air Jordan, the Nike shoe endorsed by Michael Jordan, the basketball star, became the most famous sneaker ever made.
Sneakers started to be manufactured for other sports besides basketball, including cross training, skateboarding, and walking. Nike designed a sneaker with a pump valve to enable the sneaker to inflate or deflate the heel.

From Foot Protectors to Fashion Statements

20 million sneakers are sold in the United States every year.

Foot coverings have been in existence since primitive man. Shoes have turned from foot protectors to fashion statements, sneakers included. Today, the sneaker industry is a $13 billion a year industry. Over 350 million pairs of sneakers are sold each each. Manufacturers of athletic footwear even do surveys among high school students to learn what these youths think is cool.

Sneakers have evolved into a major part of people’s attire. What started out, as footwear primarily for the beach, has evolved into a science to help athletes run faster and perform better. With all of this technology put into sneakers, we have all benefitted in better comfort and style, and athletic prowess.

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    • Maddie Ruud profile image

      Maddie Ruud 5 years ago from Oakland, CA

      Fascinating! I had no idea vulcanized rubber was invented for US Government mail bags. What a fabulous piece of trivia!

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 5 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Who knew that sneakers had such an interesting history? Thanks for a great and very entertaining read. I'll never think of sneakers the same way again LOL.

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Tom, You always make me smile : ))

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi my friend, Yes thanks for filling my head with knowledge about feet with sneakers !

      Have a awesome weekend to !

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Hi Tom, I am glad I filled your head with knowledge about feet. Have a great weekend, and as always, thanks for the up votes and for stopping by.

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi my friend, great information on the history of sneakers, thanks for helping me learn more about sneakers and their start.

      Vote up and more !!!