What Is This?
Thanks for checking out The Idle Man’s interactive guideline on the history of sneakers. As passionate sneakerheads ourselves, we wanted to provide a comprehensive timeline that covers everything from the trainer’s (or sneaker’s) inception right up to the most expensive pair to be sold in 2016.
It’s a very simple timeline to use and share, you just need to scroll up or down to pass through decades and left or right to see what happened on specific years. We’ve worked tirelessly with the biggest brands out there to make sure the information is accurate and spent countless hours making sure it’s as user friendly as we can make it.
If you’ve enjoyed using it, we’d love for you to tell your mates about it by using the share buttons. If you’re after the information contained in this timeline, from the history of basketball shoes to who invented sneakers, all in text form, make sure you read below.
History of Sneakers - Quick Facts
Who Invented Sneakers and When Were They Invented?
The history of Sneakers is a long and interesting story. In the late 18th century poorer people wore rubber soled shoes, named plimsolls, which were made without a left or right foot (comfortable, right?). However, the U.S. Rubber Company produced a canvas topped shoe, called Keds, which are widely regarded as the first ever mass produced sneaker.
Why are shoes called sneakers?
Before shoes were made with rubber soles they had solid bottoms so were quite loud when walking. Sneakers got their name because when the user walked they wouldn’t make a sound, making it easy to sneak around.
Who Invented Tennis Shoes?
This really comes down to what you would define as a tennis shoe. Tennis shoes, to some, are just any sneakers. The origins of tennis shoes can be traced back to the British Navy in the 1800s when the sailors needed more appropriate footwear for being on deck. They were also popular with the wealthy and aristocracies at the time for playing sports. Tennis shoes how we know them today, mainly white, low-top lace up sneakers, can be credited to Fred Perry and Etonic when they teamed up in the 1980s. There are now plenty of fashion tennis shoes to choose from with nearly every brand of tennis shoe enjoying huge popularity in the 21st Century.
First Basketball Shoes
We have Converse to thank for the first ever basketball shoe. They created the All Stars which became synonymous with Chuck Taylor in the 1920s. Converse sponsored Chuck Taylor and the All Stars have since been known as Chuck Taylor All Stars. Converse basketball shoes have developed hugely since the 1920s now, though, and they have far more conventional and modern shapes nowadays.
When Were Converse Made?
Converse were first founded in 1908 by Marquis Mills in Malden, Massachusetts. The most famous of their collections, the All Star, was created in 1917 and would become one of the most famous shoes in the world when they sponsored Chuck Taylor, the prolific basketball player from that era. Whether Converse tennis shoes even exist is a debatable subject. However, the low top versions of the All Stars are the closest you’ll get to a sneaker that looks like the likes of Stan Smiths, Common Projects or Fred Perry tennis shoes.
First Pair of Nike Shoes
The first Nike shoe to be made is actually unclear as two people, Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman’s athletics student; Otis Davis, both claim the first Nike shoe was made for them. What is for sure is that the first shoe Nike ever made was designed with the “Waffle Tread” which Bowerman created using his wife’s waffle iron.
First Athletic shoes
You could argue that Keds were the first athletic shoe but to get a pair that look closer to what we now know as track and athletic shoes, we have Etonic to thank. In the 1960s they created the Trackster - this was the first ever running shoe to be mass produced using rippled soles and with the aesthetic we now recognise as an athletic and track shoe.
Best Basketball Shoes of All Time
Now this really comes down to personal preference but NBA sneakers are some of the coolest looking sneakers of all time. Our personal favourites as a top ten include:
- Nike Air Max - Penny Hardaway
- Adidas Attitude - Patrick Ewing
- Nike Air Garnett III - Kevin Garnett
- Air Jordan I - Michael Jordan
- Reebok Kamikaze II - Shawn Kemp
- Converse Aero Jam - Larry Johnson
- Reebok Shaqnosis - Shaquille O’neil
- Nike Lebron XI - LeBron James
- Air Jordan III - Michael Jordan
- Converse All Star - Chuck Taylor
LeBron James Sneakers
Another huge sneaker endorsement of modern basketball times is the LeBron franchise. There have been some incredible sneakers from this series, here are our top ten.
- Nike Zoom LeBron IV
- Nike LeBron Air Max 8
- Nike Air Max Lebron VII
- Nike Air Zoom Generation Zoom Wheat
- Nike LeBron 8 VI “Pre Heat”
- Nike Zoom LeBron II All Star
- Nike LeBron 8 VI James Dean
- Nike LeBron 9 Galaxy
- Nike LeBron III SVSM
- Nike LeBron 9 MVP
The Best Puma Sneakers of All Time
Puma have been responsible for many innovations in their time and these are the ten we consider their best of all time.
- Puma State
- Puma Clyde
- Puma Ibiza
- Puma Basket
- Puma Liga
- Puma Dallas
- Puma Trim-Quick
- Puma Match
- Puma Boris Becker Ace
- Puma G Vilas
Slip On Sneakers
Vans are without question the kings of the Slip On. Paul Van Doren introduced this to the Vans collection in 1980 with a checkerboard print. They were then used in the movie Fast Times At Ridgemont High with Sean Penn playing the main character. This gave them instant success and stardom and the Vans brand hasn’t looked back since creating new styles with vibrant prints every year.
High Top Sneakers
First created by Converse, the high top sneaker is one of the most popular silhouettes on the market. Air Jordans, Chuck Taylors, most basketball shoes, Vans Sk8 Hi and, nowadays, even high end brands all dominate the market. Fun fact - there’s even a study that suggests people are more likely to buy high tops in times of recession and economic uncertainty. Why? Who knows.
Best Shoes Ever Made
Another highly contentious statement but for this you have to include the pairs that have innovated new ways of approaching how to make sneakers. Chuck Taylors, Keds Canvas Shoes, adidas Gazelles, adidas Boost Ultras, Nike Dunks, Air Force 1s, Air Jordans, Reebok Classics and ASICS Gel Lyte III all make our list.
These revolutionised the female sneaker market in recent times when Isabel Marant first came up with the idea. They made classic sneakers taller and more feminine for the female market (as well as giving them a couple more inches in height). Isabel Marant has since come out to say that she finds all copies of her innovation vulgar, but we’re big fans of some of them.
What are sneakers?
Sneakers are technically the less practical out of the two. The first ones were made by Keds when they created the canvas-topped rubber-soled shoes. They were dubbed sneakers as they were much quieter than heavy-heeled shoes. The official English equivalent to sneakers is actually plimsolls.
Gym shoes, or running shoes, have gone through a huge evolution themselves over the years. What started as a dress shoe with cleats developed into a canvas shoe with rubber soles and then later, leather shoes with more bounce in the sole.
More recent innovations include FlyKnit uppers, Boost Technology, sock-like uppers and even Vibram 5 finger sneakers that your toes slip into. Gym shoes are most commonly seen in vibrant colourways nowadays and have bridged the gap even more between performance and fashion.
Best Under Armour Sneakers
Under Armour have developed a reputation for some of the most technologically advanced sportswear in the industry, and their sneakers are no different. These are designed solely for performance reasons but these are our top five you should know about now.
- Under Armour Speedform Apollo 2
- Under Armour Fat Tire GTX
- Under Armour Flow Grid
- Under Armour Micro G Optimum
- Under Armour Assert Grit
Trainers vs Sneakers
There can sometimes be confusion over whether there are any differences between trainers and sneakers. It’s often thought that sneakers is just the American version and trainers the British, much like pants and trousers. However, there are differences between the two, so we thought we’d clear up what they are.
Firstly, let’s run through what they have in common. They’re both made with rubber soles, they’re both made with comfort in mind and they both have a street aesthetic. That’s where the similarities end though.
What are trainers?
Trainers, then, are the more practical option out of the two. They will be created with training in mind, will have more technical elements to their design such as added ankle support, shock absorbing soles and sturdier materials. Although these are designed to be used for sport and exercise, it’s not strange to see people wearing them for style purposes.
History of Sneaker Brands
History of Converse
The Converse history is one that stretches way back to the early 1900s. Originally called the Converse Rubber Shoe Company, it was founded by a plucky entrepreneur called Marquis Mill in 1908. Just nine years later they produced the All Star a now truly iconic shoe which is also the best sold sneaker in the world. When the company sponsored a basketball team, called the Converse All Stars, they decided to sponsor their star player - Charles ‘Chuck’ Taylor - and the Chuck Taylor was born. It’s this sneaker that is widely regarded as the first basketball shoes to hit the market.
History of Nike
Who founded Nike and when was Nike invented?
Nike, named after the Greek Goddess of victory, was founded in 1964 by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman. Nike’s founders originally opened a store called Blue Ribbon Sports to be a distributor for the Japanese shoe maker Onitsuka Tiger, who would later rebrand themselves to ASICS.
What was the first Nike shoe?
The first Nike shoe to be made is actually unclear as two people, Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman’s athletics student Otis Davis, both claim the first Nike shoe was made for them. Whatever the first Nike shoe was, it would’ve been made with the track in mind.
Who owns Nike?
Phil Knight is still chairman but their CEO and president is now Mark Parker. Nike now employ over 60,000 people globally and the company also own other brands such as Converse, Hurley International and Jordan.
How much is Nike worth?
In its first year RBS made $8,000 in gross sales, fast forward over 50 years and the brand is worth just under $16 billion dollars and enjoys a 19% share of the footwear market.
Where is Nike located?
Nike has headquarters all over the world as well as stores and factories. Their headquarters are now based in Beaverton in Washington County. Nike currently have plans to expand their headquarters 3.2 million square in Beaverton.
Where are Nike shoes made?
Nike’s main factories are based outside of the US, namely China, Vietnam, Mexico and Indonesia. In recent years Nike has worked hard to make sure all of its factories meet minimum wage and working conditions standards after some controversy surround their ‘sweatshops’.
Nike Logo History
Before Nike rebranded from BRS the now famous ‘Swoosh’ didn’t exist. When Nike made their first ever pair of shoes after the relationship between them and Onitsuka Tiger came to an end, they used the swoosh in 1971. The swoosh was then patented as a registered trademark three years later in 1974. The Swoosh was designed by Carolyn Davidson who was a graphic design student at the time. Phil Knight called on Carolyn to design the logo as a favour and his original remark was “I don’t love it, but it will grow on me”, having rejected many other designs before it.
Most Popular Nike Shoes
Nike has had many iconic shoes over their existence but their most popular include Nike Air Max, Nike Dunks, Nike Jordans, Nike SBs and, since they acquired the company, Converse Chuck Taylors.
History of Air Jordans
Jordans make up a large part of the Nike sneaker offering and has become a huge brand in itself. The Jordan shoe history is well documented as the brand was first started in 1984 when Nike sponsored Jordan and created the now famous silhouette of the ‘Notorious’ in 1984. The shoes were actually banned as they didn’t follow NBA regulations but Nike and Jordan went ahead with the designs anyway and Nike paid any fines that came Michael’s way. But who invented Jordans? Obviously Nike and Michael Jordan himself were key players in the sneakers’ birth but Peter Moore, Tinker Hatfield and Bruce Kilgore are credited with designing most if not all the Jordans ever made.
Most Popular Jordan Shoes
Again, this is down to your personal taste on whether you think these are the best but these are the top five best-selling Jordans of all time.
- The Air Jordan
- Jordan 10 Retro Steel
- Jordan 8 Retro Bugs Bunny
- Jordan 10 Retro Powder
- Jordan 3 Retro Black Cement
History of Adidas
When Was adidas Founded
The Adidas history is well documented. It was actually inadvertently started by two brothers - Rudolph “Rudi” and Adolf “Adi Dassler - who worked together in their parents’ home to create running shoes with spikes on them. Then, in 1936, Adolf travelled to the Berlin Olympics and persuaded Jesse Owens to use their shoes. After winning four gold medals, Jesse put the Dassler brothers firmly on the map.
Where Did adidas Originate
Adidas originated in Herzogenaurach, around 20km from Nuremberg, Germany. At this point the company was still owned by both Rudolph and Adolf Dassler and was called Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory).
Who owns Adidas
Adidas was Adi Dasler’s half of the company when they parted ways in 1949, his brother went on to create Puma (originally called Ruda). Adidas’ CEO is now Herbert Hainer who took over from Robert Louise-Dreyfus in 2002.
Adidas vs Puma
When the two brothers had a feud during the second world war, it’s said Adi rushed his family into a bomb shelter that Rudi was in with his own family. When Adi entered the shelter he reportedly said “the bastards are back again” in reference to the allied bombing planes but Rudolph is said to think he thought the remark was about himself. Rudolph was later picked up by American armed forces and accused of being a member of the Waffen SS, which he wasn’t, and he was sure it was his brother that had turned on him. The brothers never made a truce and had a fierce rivalry until they passed away. They’re now buried in the same cemetery but their graves are as far away from each other as possible.
Adidas Basketball Shoes vs Puma Basketball Shoes
Adidas are famous for being one of the leading brands in basketball shoe manufacturing. Their most famous lines came in the 1960s when they released the iconic Superstar and Pro Model shoes. The Superstars then went onto become iconic amongst hip-hop acts of the 1980s. Adidas have also endorsed many basketball stars from the NBA including Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Harden.
Puma aren’t so synonymous with basketball but their most famous pair the Puma Clydes were a huge endorsement by Walt “Clyde” Frazier in 1973. The most noteable Puma basketball shoes of recent time include Rebound FS4, Future High Sky and the re-issue of the Classic Canvas.
Adidas Tennis Shoes
One of the most iconic and popular sneakers at the moment are Adidas’ tennis shoes - Stan Smiths. Stan Smith was a prolific tennis player from the 1960s to 1980s. I was in 1971 when Adidas approached him to create what was then known as the Haillet shoe.
The Full History of sneakers
1800s - 1900s
sneakers actually date back to the 18th Century when the first plimsolls were invented, they had no left or right foot and were dubbed “sneakers” as the user could sneak around without being heard (compared to heavy heeled shoes at least). It was in 1876 when the world’s first trainer company was born when Charles A Eaton opened his first shoe factory in Brockton and Etonic were born. Le Coq Sportif closely followed when in 1882 Emile Camuset opened a small hosiery in Champagne.
It was in 1890 that Britain joined the trainer game when J.W. Foster and Sons (better known now as Reebok) developed some of the earliest running spikes for athletes. Then came the process of vulcanisation, pioneered by American inventor, Charles Goodyear, and picked up by the U.S Rubber Company who used the process of vulcanisation to develop canvas upper sneakers called Keds. Just before the end of the 19th century four businessmen came together in Pennsylvania to found a shoe factory, giving birth to Saucony.
1900 - 1940
The turn of the century saw some exciting developments in the trainer and sneaker world William J Riley founded New Balance in England, the Converse Rubber Shoe company was founded in America and Keds were being fully mass produced. By 1924 the world was introduced the Chuck Taylor Converse All Stars, Saucony started to produce running sneakers and Adi and Rudolph Dassler started producing their own handmade running shoes under the name Adidas in Germany. Jesse Owens would famously go on to win four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Soon after, Diadora was founded and Adi Dassler went solo, patenting the now famous three stripes.
The 1940s to the 1960s saw a cultural change in people’s attitudes towards sneakers as younger generations started to wear them for fashion rather than sports. Diadora was founded in the late 1940s, Adi Dassler patented the three stripes trademark in 1949 and the baby boom created a new generation of youngsters all willing to experiment with their clothing a little more.
In the 1950s, Onitsuka Tiger are founded, Puma develop the first football boot, trainer sales rose to 6 million and J.W Foster and Sons re-branded to Reebok. Germany also won the world cup in adidas studded football boots in this era.
The 1960s saw two of the most iconic brands in the world born - Nike and Vans - after New Balance released the Trackster, the world’s first running shoe with ripple soles, and began mass production.
As jogging as a form of exercise became hugely popular in the 1970s, Converse purchased the rights to Jack Purcell sneakers from B.F Goodrich and Nike developed the first waffle tread. It also saw the birth of Pony, with backing from Adidas chairman Horst Dassler; HI-TEC SPORTS, in England; and ASICS, an acronym for "Anima Sana In Corpore Sano", meaning "A Sound Mind In A Sound Body". Most notably, though, it was in 1976 that the world’s first women’s sneakers were born.
The 80s saw birth of some truly iconic sneakers including the Saucony 80, Etonic’s tennis shoes, in collaboration with Fred Perry; the Saucony Jazz; New Balance’s 996, also the world’s first $100 trainer; Nike’s Air Jordans; Nike Air 1 and Reebok PUMPS. It was this decade that bright colours began to be incorporated.
As we step into the 90s, we see the world’s first laceless shoes being created in the shape of Puma’s Disc. The 90s also saw the world being introduced to the Reebok Shaqnosis and Puma’s Mostros - sported by the likes of Madonna.
The early 2000s saw the Puma Speedcat released, originally designed in 1999 as a fireproof version for F1 pilots; sneakers being endorsed by musicians, notably Jay Z and 50 Cent with Reebok; Nike buying out Converse for $309million; LeBron X’s being released and the first versions of the Nike Frees hitting stores. Later in the decade gave us the first Vibram five toe shoe, Nike SBs, Nike Zoom Kobe VII, the first ever Jordan collaboration with UNDFTD, the Nike x Apple Nike+ and Usain Bolt winning setting world records in Puma sneakers.
From 2010 onwards we’ve seen some incredibly expensive sneakers from the likes of the Yeezy collections, in which Kanye was paid a whopping $10million, with one pair going for $16,300,000 on an eBay auction, the Nike Air Mag ($37,500) and Blackout Air Jordan 11s ($11,267). In fact, Jordans are so popular that Michael still earns an astounding $100 million a year. Other huge moments include Kanye West’s signing with Adidas where they plan to open Yeezy stores, sportswear and streetwear in what is being regarded as the biggest ever collaboration between a clothing brand and non-athlete in history.
Technologies are playing a huge role in the modern era too. We’ve got self tying shoes from Nike with the launch of the HyperAdapt, adidas’ innovation of Boost technology, the huge success of the adidas NMD which are one of the German brand’s best selling sneakers and the rise of flyknit uppers. Other notable technological advances include adidas’ Tubular cushioning, the Nike+ data collecting technology for athletes, adidas’ Springblade soles, the super light Nike Free Hyperfeel, the divisive Vibram 5 Finger shoes and Nike’s hugely honourable Zoom Soldier 8 shoe with Flyease technology to help people with disabilities to take off their shoes with one hand, particularly good for people who have suffered strokes, amputees and people with cerebral palsy.
Sneaker Collaborations and the Future
The collaborations that have caused the biggest storms in recent years include Nike x Supreme, Nike Lab x Olivier Rousteing, Jordan x OVO, Jordan x Don C and Yeezy x adidas. Rihanna pairing up with Puma for further colourways of the Creeper made some big waves in the women’s market whilst the Solebox and Nike Kicks collabs with adidas Consortium caused many a head to turn. The Concepts x New Balance City Pack celebrated the age old rivalry of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees as the pretty surprising Ronnie Fieg x ASICS Gel-Lyte 3.1 designs enjoyed their very own launch party.
As we step into the latter years of this decade and into the future, what could come? Technologies are sure to get more and more advanced, improving aesthetics and wearer experience, whilst collaborations are sure to become more and more frequent. Whether we’ll ever see a Nike x adidas or New Balance x ASICS, or any other major collab for that matter, remains to be seen. Only companies we know (and are yet to meet) truly know what the future holds.