Tuesday, August 01, 2017
A brief history of Athletic Shoes
The resurgence in running brought about by the English in the 18th century meant the development of a light weight shoe which could grip the ground. The nineteenth century saw the introduction of an all leather spiked, running shoe in 1850. The need for greater speed in the modern games necessitated further refinement of lightweight shoes with improved traction. Competition shoes were made from leather and fitted tightly to the foot but because they were not waterproofed, the leather stretched making them useless for running.
In 1832, Wait Webster patented a process whereby rubber soles could be attracted to the shoes and boots. By the 1860s a croquet shoe was available made with a rubber sole and a canvas upper that fastened with laces. Movement in the canvas topped rubber shoes was noiseless and quickly adopted by sneak thieves, gaining the name “sneakers.” By the turn of the century the development of the plimsoll gave a cheap serviceable shoes and these were quickly adapted to children’s wear.
Spiked shoes for running were developed in 1852 and by 1894 the Spalding Company catalogue featured three grades of spiked footwear. Low cut, made from kangaroo leather uppers, the soles had six spikes. These shoes cost $6.00. This was very expensive at the time when an average family of four survived on $11 per week.
Specialty shoes for the bicycle boom of the 1860s and 70s saw the introduction of heel-less shoes for cyclists. These were lightweight and had eight or ten eyelets. The shoe was extensively advertised in 1890s. Competitive sports was very much the pastime of the affluent. Joseph William Foster founded the first sports shoe company in Boulton, UK in the 1890's. His grandson later took over in 1958 and renamed the firm, Reebok.
The Bolton based company in England did make shoes for Lord Burghley in the 1924 Olympics. These were thin leather shoe made from rigid leather. In 1907 one company began stitching a leather strip round the top of the shoe to form a collar, and this helped to reduce stretching. This was the beginning of the various dashes which now form standard design for modern sports shoes.
According to Valerie Steele, the first popular sneaker was introduced in the United States in 1916 under the name of Keds. The K is thought to stand for kids and the term is rhyming slang for ped (s) i.e. Latin for foot. Keds were tennis shoes.
In 1917 the higher boot for basketball was introduced by Converse and the shoe was known as the Converse All Stars (Pattison & Cawthorne, 1997). In 1923 his signature appeared on the ankle patch and henceforth the shoes were known as Chucks.
The popularity of tennis in the 1920s meant many adults wore canvas topped shoes for recreation. The father of the modern running shoe was Adolf Dassler who began making shoes in 1920. By 1936 his shoes were internationally acknowledged as the best and were worn by athletes of the calibre of Jesse Owens. Dassler specialised in shoes designed for sport. After the lean war years he continued to progress and developed the training shoe made from surplus tent canvas and rubber from fuel tanks. In 1948 he founded Adidas but the company was soon to split into Addas (later known as Adidas) and Puma.
To give support to the running shoe Dassler added three side strips to the shoe which first appeared in 1949. Throughout this post war period the demand for leisure footwear grew. The fitness craze of the 30s meant sneakers became associated with sports and leisure activities.
In 1936 the US Basketball Team adopted the Converse Chucks as the official shoe. In the same year Dassler's running shoes were worn at the Berlin Olympics. By the 1950s famous runners were supplied shoes free and gratis. At the discretion of the athlete, they either wore socks or not. This would imply the shoe was a very tight fit.Competition between shoe companies was fierce and many athletes were unofficially approached to wear brand names. According to Jennings (1996), From the Melbourne Olympics, 1956, Adidas executives were alleged to have offered bribes to athletes to wear shoes made by that firm.
In 1962, New Balance introduced the first scientifically tested shoe and this weighed 96 grams. In 1968 brush spikes were introduced and replaced the traditional four spike running shoe.
The 1976 Montreal Olympics was the first time an athlete was photographed endorsing his running shoes after winning 10,000 metre race. Such public endorsement was well rewarded by the companies which produced the goods. The first Olympics to be televised were Mexico and promoters wasted no time displaying their brand insignias on the champions for the world to see. Before these shoe advertisements showing Olympians receiving their glittering prizes and wearing branded shoes had to have their faces blotted out.
The sight of Tommy Smith photographed in his Puma Suedes giving the Black Power fist was a powerful image closely identified by many young people around the globe. At this time it was alleged track athletes were given monetary rewards for wearing certain competition shoes.
In 1973 track athlete Steve Profontane became the first major track person to wear Nikes. Olympian Jon Anderson and tennis player Ilie Nastase soon followed as Nike wearers. Jimmy Connors won Wimbledon and US Open wearing his Nike tennis shoes. In 1978 John McEnroe signed an endorsement with the company. Many of his antics, including kiss the ground were thought to be a way of highlighting his sponsor's gear. All of which was swallowed by an eager set of consumers.
When the aerobics explosion took place Reebok saw the market potential and began to make sneakers in softer materials and in colours appropriate female tastes. The shoes were less rigid in construction.
In 1984/5 Nike signed Michael Jordan for $2.5 million and the Air Jordan were born. In the Atlanta Olympics, 1996 the battle between manufacturers of shoes was at its height. Reebok were the official footwear supplier but other companies launched massive promotions. Much ambush advertising was in evidence with Nike attempting to promote the rings logo on their track and sportswear kits. Are sport shoes made for feet? The answer is no. Shoes are made to a last which is a model of the foot, but not an exact anatomical replica. The last has not changed its design that much for decades and before the nineteenth hundreds, for centuries before. The last model is really a tool for mass production and whilst it is recognised as a foot, when sized up or downwards, the complete dimension of the last is proprietary changed. This means the breadth of the heel and ball increase by the same proportion for the shoe but these dimensions would not be found in the human foot. The most important feature of sport shoes is they are stable on the foot and must hold the human heel in the heel seat of the shoe. Hence the soccus or slipper component of the sport shoe exhibits the combined conventional wisdom of shoemakers from the beginnings of time. The rigours of sport necessitate the inclusion of reinforcements and this is done to a greater or lesser extent, today, by the choice of material combination. The rest is down to fashion and the manufacturer's logo.
According to Hunter (1991) most shoe manufacturers imply injury is due to the anatomy of individual who happens to be constructed incorrectly. Obligingly they amend their products regularly in an attempt to counteract these mainly imaginary skeletal defects. In a highly competitive industry shoe manufacturers became engrossed in trumpeting their patented designs as well as knocking their rivals.
Modern synthetic shoes are made of lightweight mesh fabric uppers and lightweight synthetic soles chosen for maximum flexibility and comfort. Running shoes have no heel and this provides the necessary leverage for toe spring, which propels the runner’s legs forward. The new era of athletic footwear are sport centric and bespoke helped by micro computers and CAM CAD systems.
Hunter B 1991 The game's afoot Brisbane; CopyRight Publishing
Jennings A 1996 The newlords of the rings London: Pocket Books
Pattison A Cawthorne N 1997 A century of shoes NSW: Universal International
Steele V Shoes: lexicon of style London : Scriptum Editions