Given the importance of sneakers or tennis shoes (trainers to our British friends), it is hard to imagine how recently they were developed. Sneakers were developed in America and were not widely accepted in Europe until very recently (the 1970s). The first rubber soled shoe with canvas uppers appeared in 1908. They were developed fpr playing tennis, thus the common American name--tennis shoes. At about the same time, Converse introduced its famed high-top basket ball shoes. America children of all social classes by the late 1940s dressed almost alike, in jeans and (usually) white "T"-shirts. There were no "T"-shirts with logos on them that I can recall. One observer reports that when he moved from a working class neighborhood to a lower middle class neighborhood in 1948, he was struck by the one obvious difference: poor boys wore sneakers while lower middle class boys wore shoes. The shoes were impractical but they wore them, even when playing baseball!. At least in Worcester, Massachusetts. Then, in 1949, I moved to an upper middle class neighborhood. Dress was similar to the working class and lower middle class neighborhoods except that the boys wore mocasins instead of either sneakers or shoes. I know that the movies show 1949 boys all wearing sneakers, but in my experience that wasn't the case. Another American observer reports that middle class boys in the early 1950s wore leather shoes to school and then changes into canvas shoes (Keds) for play after school. The social difference gradually narrowed and the shoes became increasingly popular. Despite the growing popularity, the sneaker had changed little in 40 years. It was a basic sole of vulcanized rubber and a canvas upper. American sports began to change in the 1960s. Atheletes began commanding enormous salaries. Sports began to be big business. Specialized shoes were developed for many different sports and passtimes. The use of these shoes in sports and endorsements by prominent atheletes resulted in rapidly expanding sales as well as sharply higher prices. Sneakers once inexpensive shoes for working-class boys became the height of fashion. Some prices passed the $100 mark.
The first sneankers apopeared in Britain and were known as plimsolls (1870s). Thename was apparently derived from from the coloured horizontal band joining the upper to the sole. Some likened this to the Plimsoll line on a ship's hull. [Jones] Another theory is that ike the Plimsoll line on a ship, if water got above the rubber sole, the wearer's feet would get wet. Plimsolls were low-cut sneakers that were popular vacationers and also began to be worn by sportsmen on the tennis and croquet courts, largely because they were confortable. This meant at firsr=t they were a shoe for the well to do who could afford stylish lifestyles as well as sportsmen who first came from the privlidged classes. Manufcturers developed special soles with engraved patterns to increase surface grip -- especilly imprtant for sportsmen. The Nritish Army was the first military force to order sneakers. We are not sdure just why yet. Irinically the Royl Navy did not. You might think tht snekers would be especully suitavle for a ship and a marinde environment, more suitbvke than leather shoes. Athletic shoes were becoming increasingly popular for leisure and outdoor activities (turn-od-the 20th century). Cpt. Robert Scott took them pn his failed Terra Nova Antarctic expedition (1911). Plimsolls also began to be used in school physical education proigrams. We note this in both Ameruca and Britain. Here we are takking avbout secondary schools, schools with gyms. They were noy only good for movemnt, but to protect the wooden gyum surfaces. The British company J.W. Foster and Sons designed and produced the first shoes designed specifically for running (1895). Their shoes had spiked soles to improve traction and speed. Foster made high-quality handmade running shoes to sportsmen who could affrod expebsive shoes. They won an orrder from the British team at the 1924 Summer Olympics. And hekped Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell win the 100 m and 400 m events. In terms of the general public, most importntly, after the turn-of-the 20 century, smers began to make a real hit. The U.S. Rubber Company introduced the first American rubber-soled shoe, but not yet a canvas upper (1892). They proved poopular and these shoes became an important product line. At thesame time, basketball was becoming a popular school sport. James Naismith invented baxketball (1891) and it was adopted in highdchoola nd colleges allm over the country. So anither American company, Spalding. began making a basketball shoe (1907). The market for sneakers grew expoonentially after World War I. And the market was no longer for well-helled sporysmen and vacationers so to speak. Sports became mass ebtertainment as well as a way to to show off moral fiber and patriotism. Boys liked them because they were more comfoirtablke than the heavy leather shoes at the time. And when high profile aththelets began endorsing them (Jim Thorpe and Chuck Taylor), the ,arket took off. They were not a first worn to school. In fact, many schools banned them. But children changed into them for gum. But after school and during the summer thery were wudely woirn. High-tops were especially common, er think a basketbll influence. Shoe companies began creating and marketung what they called athletic shoes for different sports. Athhletes could choose from the different styles for their Olympic performances, all adding to the popularioty of these shoes (inter-War era). A French company, Spring Court, came up with with a canvas tennis shoe that had eight ventilation channels on a vulcanised natural rubber sole. It is at this time that that the Germans got involved. Adolf 'Adi' Dassler who has returned home from World War I, began producing a sport shoe he had designed in his his mother's wash kitchen. This was ithe beginning of the of the leading athletic shoe manufacturers -- Adidas. He famously sold his shoes to athletes at the 1936 Summer Olympics, which established a reputation for his company. His sales boomed and the Dasslers were selling 200,000 pairs of these shoes annually in the years leading up to World War II. Then disaster hit. Rubber imports were cut off and what was available from stnthetic production was needed by the military. The photographic record gives us an exceptional window on popular trends. We do not see snaekersd to any extent in 19th century studio photography. Kodak's Brownie caused a explosion in family snapshots outsude the studio (1900). We at first do not see many sna=eakers, but this gradually changed. The first rubber soled shoe married to a canvas upper appeared (1908). It was intoduced as a tennis shoe which is why snaeakers foir many years were akso referred to as tennis shoes by children and adults who did not play tennis. We see Americn children, mostlu boys, commonly wearing sneakers (inter-War era). This is also when Converse introduced its famed high-top basketball shoes. U.S. Rubber which had pioneered sneakers camne out with Keds (1917). Keds would dominate the U.S. market forseveral years. Keds were still the dominate sneaker in America during the 1950s. Sneakers were not widely accepted as boys wear in Europe until later. We begin to see them before World War II began in the late 1930s. They were worn in France during the 1950s, mostly high-top styles. It was not until relatively recently, the 1970s, that they became very popular and fashionable. .
Sneakers have been referred to by mant different names. Those names have changed over time and varied by country. Sneakers were called "canvas shoes" when they first appeared. Very early on, the canvas shoes with rubber soles were called "sneakers" in America because the rubber sole made the shoe so stealthy. Most other shoes, with the exception of moccasins, made noises or squeaked when worn. Sneakers until the 1950s were also commonly called 'Keds' in America because of the importance of that brand. Other terms such as gym shoes and running shoes and now sports shoes have been used. Specifically designed shoes are associated with basketball, tennis, and other sports. The popularity of sneakers for tennis meant that sneakers were oten called "tennis shoes". The term tennis shoes was also used for a time to describe smeakers in general. English boys had other names for sneakers. They were commonly called "plimsols" through the 1950s and usually worn for school phyical education. Today Brits more commonly say "trainers".
We mostly see high-top sneakers when they first appear. Liw-cuts exiosted, but were less popular. An example is Jeffrey Bowes, we think in the 1930s. The boy's high-tops here are a good example (1939). And this continued in the United Stats where they were modst popular into the 1950s. We are not sure just why high-tops were so populrar
The different brands and lines of smeakers is a hugh topic. Seneakers were made by many different companies which over time offered a wide range of different lines of sneakers. The first companies were American and for many years sneakers were primarily worn by American children. Some brands of sneakers are particularly noteworthy:
In the early part of the 20th Century the Dassler brothers, in Germany, left their father's manufacturing business to found two separate companies. Adi created "Adidas" whereas Rudolf established "Puma".
A HBC reader tells us, "A brief fad that I think has been largely forgotten, and one that I don't feel so badly about was the Kangaroo Shoes. This was a name brand for a shoe that had a pocket on it, a pocket that performed no practical purpose (except that maybe you could put some change in them. I don't know why you'd do this, but you could). The pocket was fastened with a zipper at first, and then
by velcro when velcro took off. It seems to me that the Kangaroos were the first shoes I ever saw that were fastened with
velcro straps. Those shoes didn't really look too bad from what I remember of them, and I really liked those shoes even after
they went out of fashion."
I recall wearing high-top Keds in the early 1950s. They were black with white soles. My memory is not very clear, but I do not recall other boys wearing aby different styles or colors at the time. I wore these Keds for play afyer school and in the summer with jeans. As far as I can recall, I did not wear them to school.
P.F. Flyers were a popular brand of sneakers that are now mainly of historic interest. They were made by B. F. Goodrich. The "P.F." stands for �Posture Foundation.�Advertised as making their wearer "Run Faster... Jump Higher." The Goodrich sneaker division was purchased by Converse in 1971, but later spun off P.F. Flyers to settle a Department of Justice complaint that they were monopolizing the sneaker market. After other ownership P.F. Flyer brand was bought by New Balance in 2001 and they are being manufactured today.
Of interest to those watching the movie The Sandlot. Should not be confused with Radio Flyers--a brand of children's wagons, sleds, trikes, etc, especially remembered for the sleds. It is your standard snow sled which was designed in around 1900 and is still being made today.
Some sneakers were generic playwear for children--initially mostly bots. There were also sneakers made for specific sports. Some of these terms were used generically, especially "basketball shoes" and "tennis shoes". These terms became almost synonamous with sneakers. There were, however, sneakers especially made for these and oyther sports. A reader tells us that he handled soccer shoes in the early 1990s as the sport was exploding in popularity in the United States. Interestingly the term soccer shoe never became popular. Perhaps this was because soccer was usually played with cleated shoes like football.
It is no accident that sneakers became popular in the years after World War I. Fashion took a dramatic turn when the war ended which was reflected in both clothes and footwear. As people's interests
changed, so did clothing. People were increasingly interested in keisure an sports. As a result, sportswear was increasing in popularity and such fashions were soon incorporated into
everyday dress. One of those fashions was of course smeakers.
America children of
all social classes by the late 1940s dressed
almost alike, in jeans and (usually) white "T"-shirts. There were no "T"-shirts with logos on them that I can recall. One observer reports that when he moved from a working class neighborhood to a lower middle
class neighborhood in 1948, he was struck by the one obvious difference: poor boys wore sneakers while lower middle class boys wore shoes. The shoes were impractical but they wore them, even when playing baseball!. At least in Worcester, Massachusetts. Then, in 1949, I moved to an upper
middle class neighborhood. Dress was similar to the
working class and lower middle class neighborhoods except that the boys
wore mocasins instead of either sneakers or shoes. I know that the
movies show 1949 boys all wearing sneakers, but in my experience that wasn't the case. Another American observer reports that middle class boys
in the early 1950s wore leather shoes to school and then changes into canvas shoes (Keds) for play after school. The social difference gradually narrowed and the shoes became increasingly popular. Despite the growing popularity, the sneaker had changed little in 40 years. It was a basic sole of vulcanized rubber and a canvas upper.
American sports began to change in the 1960s. Atheletes began commanding enormous salaries. Sports
began to be big business. Specialized shoes were developed for many different sports and passtimes. The use of these shoes in sports and endorsements
by prominent atheletes resulted in rapidly expanding sales as well as sharply higher prices. Sneakers once inexpensive shoes for working-class boys became the height of fashion. Some prices passed the $100 mark.
This is an informative site about smeakers. It provides extensive information on different terms for sneakers as well as different sneaker lines over time marketed by various manufacturers.
Jones, Nicholette. The Plimsoll Sensation.
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