Sneakers: A Brief History

With October 9th being National Sneaker Day, a day solely dedicated to sneakers, it would be rude for us not to take a look back in time at some of the most iconic moments in sneaker history. 

At the beginning (in the late 18th century) there were Plimsolls, the first rubber sole shoes, which were made without a left or a right foot and were mainly a luxury for the wealthy. Luckily, shortly after that, the U.S. Rubber Company produced Keds, a canvas topped shoe, which was considered to be the first mass-produced sneakers. Sneakers have evolved immensely since then with advancements in technology and creative innovations.

The evolution of Keds from 1916 to today. Image Source: Keds

The term “Sneaker” was coined shortly after the release of the original Keds sneakers by advertising agent Henry Nelson Mckinney. The shoe’s rubber sole muffled the sounds of footsteps, making them almost silent, also making it a whole lot easier to ‘sneak’ up on someone – hence the word ‘sneakers’ was born.

By 1917 Marquis Converse produced the first sole made just for Basketball, called Converse All-Stars. A basketball superstar from Indiana named Chuck Taylor endorsed these sneakers and the Chuck Taylor All-Stars became the best-selling basketball shoes of all time.

Chuck Taylor on the court with his All-Stars. Image Source: Heddels

Sneakers went international in the 1920s when a German man by the name of Adi Dassler, created the sneaker brand: Adidas, named after himself. The brand then became the most popular athletic shoe in the world. Adidas introduced leather and suede into the marketplace in the early 1970s. When pro basketball players started wearing them, an entirely new world of footwear was born. 

In 1971 Bill Bowerman, the esteemed creator of Nike, had a breakthrough moment one morning when he realized that his wife’s waffle iron would make the perfect tread he had envisioned for Nike’s first pair of running shoes. He was developing sneakers for his athletes that had the perfect grip for any surface.

Bill Bowerman creating the Waffle Trainer. Image Source: Nike

The early 80s saw the emergence of brands such as Reebok and Puma (started by Adi Dassler’s Brother Rudi) but the true watershed moments came in the mid-1980s when the first Air Jordan’s dropped – considered the most world-renowned, iconic and timeless sneakers ever made to date.

Michael Jordan wearing the Nike Air Jordan 1 in 1984. Image Source: Heddels

Two years after the release of the Air Jordan’s, Hip-hop group Run DMC made a song called My Adidas, where, at a concert, they encouraged the audience to hold up their Adidas – enter the world of street culture. 

Run DMC concert at Madison Square Garden in 1986.

The boom of signature kicks in this era provided the necessary elements to birth a community where the goal was to wear the freshest, hardest to find, limited edition sneakers that have grown to an almost mythic proportion. What once began as a sub-culture is now the omnipresent global, multi-billion dollar sneaker and streetwear industry.  

Here are some more of the most iconic sneakers of all time:

The Nike Cortez is seen as the first modern track sneakers designed for long-distance running. The Cortez' became popular in the 1970s, but they really took the world by storm when Forrest Gump ran across America in them in 1994. 

The PUMA Clyde/Suede was turned into a classic by New York Knicks player, Walt “Clyde” Fraizer, who requested that the PUMA sneaker got a suede makeover in 1973.

Paul Van Doren, the creator of Vans, noticed that kids were coloring in their Vans with checkerboard patterns, so, he decided that he would start making shoes like that. The iconic slip-on Checkerboard Vans became a signature piece for skaters across the globe!

 

The Air Force 1s. which released in 1982, are Nike’s biggest seller year after year despite tech advancements making the sneakers become somewhat obsolete. As street culture grew and blended with hip-hop and then with fashion, the Nike Air Force 1s have always remained a constant in the ever-changing sneaker landscape.

Yeezys have become a defining shoe of this era, and when people look back in 20 years’ time and wonder about kicks, Yeezys will be the first thing that comes to mind. These sneakers are popular simply due to supply and demand. They are released in small batches, making them more desirable and in demand. They also act as a status symbol, due to their connection to today’s biggest stars.

Back in the 70s, the classic Adidas shoe gained recognition on the feet of US Open and Wimbledon tennis star Stan Smith. By 2015 the Adidas Stan Smiths were everywhere.

Happy Sneaker Day to all fellow sneakerheads. Tell us what sneakers take you back in time? #LABselects.

Follow us on Instagram and Facebook to stay up to date with our content. 

0 comments

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

Follow us on Instagram
@sneakerlab