Evolution Of The Athletic Shoe


From sports, to fashion, to collectibles, the athletic shoe has seen it all. 

Today’s subculture craze for celebrity sneakers has spawned a lucrative reseller market below the radar of  most older adults. 

Online StockX was even launched as an exchange platform for these over-hyped rubber bottoms, utilizing the same transparent bid/ask index and historical data points associated with the stock market.  

But long before evolving into pricey, pop-culture investments, American sneakers originated as humble canvas top and rubber sole keds.  They replaced clonking leather walkers and were dubbed sneakers since they allowed a person to “sneak” around silently. 

Converse debuted the All-Stars in 1917 and later hired Indiana hoops star Chuck Taylor as their salesman. By 1932, the Chuck Taylor All-Stars took on his signature and ankle star patch to become the greatest selling basketball shoes of all time. 

Across the Atlantic, Joseph Foster outfitted Britain’s 1924 Olympic sprinters with his spiked running shoes. Those athletes were immortalized in the 1981 film, Chariots of Fire.

Decades later, Foster’s grandsons would break away to found Reebok.  In Germany, Adolf Dassler and his brother Rudolph created the famed three stripes Adidas shoes. Jesse Owens won four gold medals in them at the 1936 Olympics. 

After the war, Rudolph split from his brother to form Puma, launching a bitter rivalry between the two siblings.  Sports legends like Muhammad Ali, Franz Beckenbauer and Zinadine Zidane branded Adidas. Pele, Diego Maradona and Boris Becker ran around in Pumas. 

In Hollywood, 1950’s counterculture idols James Dean and Marlon Brando were seen wearing sneakers on and off the set, helping to transform the athletic shoe into a casual fashion fad.  

At the opening whistle of the 1970 World Cup final between Brazil and Italy, Pele purposely bent down to tie his shoe, drawing the attention of millions of TV viewers to his Pumas. The distraction was part of a $125,000 prearranged deal with the foot wear company. 

But it was Michael Jordan and his gravity-defying athleticism fifteen years later that transformed the marketing power of the athletic shoe. 

Signing up with Nike in 1984, the basketball superstar took the sneaker to new heights and along with it, Nike’s profits.  Jordan and his shoes became icons and street culture followed with a myriad of sneaker designs, colors and applications.  

The air soaring legend might have retired from basketball in 2003 but his shoes did not. Size 12 “Jordan 4 Retro Eminem Carhartt” recently sold for $10,000.


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