Saturday, June 16, 2007

Sneakers and Plimsolls

A lesson in demand and supply:
By the 1830s, working-class men and women in England were taking annual holidays to the beach. A cheap, light, canvas-top shoe with a leather or jute sole became the footwear of choice on these vacations. The New Liverpool Rubber Company (which would become Dunlop) developed a low-cost, rubber-soled "sand shoe" for the beachgoers.

The shoe caught on. In the 1870s people started calling the shoes 'plimsolls' because its horizontal band, placed where the rubber joined the canvas, looked like the Plimsoll line on a ship: a line on the hull that showed how much weight a ship could carry.

White plimsolls resembled more expensive shoes made for the tennis set; in fact, the plimsolls soon replaced other shoes. The rubber soles were more comfortable and resilient on tennis courts and lawns.

Plimsolls were everywhere. They went with Admiral Scott on his Antarctic exedition . . . they were worn by athletes at the first modern Olympics in Athens . . . the military had thousands dyed to match uniforms . . . schools made them mandatory gear in athletic programs. . . . And that's in Europe.

In the U.S., the style was copied and caught on with croquet players.In 1875, rubber-soled shoes acquired the name "sneakers" because they didn't squeak like most other footwear, allowing a person to sneak around silently.

In 1912 the U.S. company Spaulding made a high-top speaker with a gum rubber suction sole, and an upper of black kangaroo leather—the forerunner of today’s basketball shoes.

Marquis Mills Converse began producing shoes in New England shortly after that, and came out with a basketball shoe in 1917: the All Star.

The first celebrity endorsement? That was the Converse Rubber Shoe Company's Chuck Taylor All Star--which is still being marketed in 2007. Basketballer Chuck Taylor got involved with Converse, suggesting improvements to the All Star shoe. He got his name on the shoe in 1923, and the rest is marketing legend. 750 million Chuck Taylor All Stars have been sold since.

Converse remained the most popular basket ball shoe for forty years. it took Adidas Pro Model in the 1960s to knock them out of first place.

And that's another story.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...
I love a Plimsoll...especially the old school retro canvas with rubber toe cap.....let me know if you wanna road test a pair??