What Is the History of Sneakers? Everything You Need to Know

The history of sneakers and how they were invented is a really cool story. Click here to find out what it is!

The US athletic footwear industry generated over $61 billion dollars last year. The global industry is on track to increase sales to $114 billion dollars within the next two years. With so much commerce at stake, it makes you wonder where did something as simple as a “tennis shoe” come from.

If you’d like to learn more about the history of sneakers, check out this interesting article. We’ll give you all the best sneaker history facts you could possibly need!

Who Invented Sneakers?

John Boyd Dunlop from Liverpool England is usually credited for being the founding father of the athletic shoe movement in the late 18th century. He created the method of bonding rubber with canvas to build a shoe to meet England’s latest running craze. These shoe pairs had the unique characteristic of not having a distinct right or left shoe.

Dunlop’s shoes were called Plimsolls. Legend has it that Plimsolls were named after the inventor who developed the system to measure a ship’s load hull. Brits believed that Dunlop’s shoe rubber resembled a ship’s hull, hence the moniker.

Where Did the Name ‘Tennis Shoes’ Come From?

The terms “sneakers” and “tennis shoes” have been used interchangeably over the years. They all, however, refer to a rubber-soled shoe made out of canvas.

Tennis shoes first emerged in the 1800s in England. British sailors needed a shoe that they could wear on the ship’s deck that kept them from sliding or slipping on the boat’s wet surface.

Tennis shoes eventually garnered the attention of England’s aristocracy. These aristocrats began to use them to play the day’s current popular game — tennis. The name has stuck ever since.

Why are Sneakers Called “Sneakers”?

Another interesting chapter in the history of the sneaker is how they got their name. Before sneakers were made, most shoes had solid, wooden soles. These wooden soles made a loud sound when walking.

When sneakers emerged, users could walk without making a sound. This made it easy for someone to “sneak” around. This new name has stuck ever since.

History of Sneakers in Today’s Market

Sneakers were mostly used to play sports in the first half of the 20th century. Starting in the 1950s, kids soon began to wear them as a fashion statement. One such famous statement occurred when movie fans saw James Dean wearing sneakers in the hit movie Rebel Without a Cause.

Today, stylish and comfortable sneakers are a fundamental piece to any wardrobe. Here’s an overview of some of the most famous name brands in the athletic shoe market and their humble beginnings.


In 1832, tire mogul Charles Goodyear invented the vulcanized rubber process. This process included adding sulfur to a heated rubber to improve its flexibility and strength. Vulcanized rubber can prevent the rubber from becoming sticky during summer months or brittle during winter months.

Goodyear eventually took his transformative rubber product and merged with other partners to form the U.S. Rubber Company. Together, they created the Keds shoe line in 1892. Keds shoes began mass production in 1917.


The Converse Rubber Shoe Company was founded in the early 1900s by entrepreneur Marquis Mill. During that time, the Converse Rubber Shoe Company sponsored a local basketball club called the Akron Firestones. Today, the Converse label continues to be one of the most popular makers of athletic shoes today.

Converse fitted the team with their one-of-a-kind shoe with a rubber sole and canvas upper. When the team’s star player Chuck Taylor added his signature patch to the side, the Converse “Chuck Taylor” legacy began. The Chuck Taylor style is considered the first basketball shoe to hit this particular sports industry.


German entrepreneur Adolf Dassler created his own shoe design in 1924. He named his shoe after an abbreviation of his name, the “Adi-das,” Dassler began to manufacture his shoes after the end of World War I.

Dassler’s best shoe design soon gained worldwide attention at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. American track-and-field star Jesse Owens wore Adidas for his four gold medal-winning performances. Owens’ shoes, were reportedly a gift from Dassler himself.


This household name got its start in 1964. University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman and student Phil Knight opened their Japanese shoe distribution business called Blue Ribbon Sports. They changed the company name to Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, in 1971.

Nike shoes were first made with a waffle iron. Waffle irons gave the shoe’s sole a groove pattern that helped runners grip the running track better. Graphic artist Carolyn Davidson designed the Nike Swoosh to represent speed and movement.


British cobblers JW Foster and Sons created the Reebok company in 1958. JW Foster and Sons had been in the shoe business since 1890.

Reebok is a South African word for gazelle. When the Foster sons submitted a list of 12 possible company names to the trademark’s office, the only name that cleared was Reebok.

Maybe Reebok’s smartest business strategy was to tap into the 1980’s women’s exercise market. But by the end of the 1990s, the company’s strategy with the basketball market and a series of unsuccessful sponsorships left the company with a 20 percent reduced market share. Today, Reebok re-brands themselves with CrossFit and focuses their sights on the dance, aerobics and yoga markets.

Final Words

Do you want to be a part of history? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Check out our website for more information on the history of sneakers. Find the pair that matches your lifestyle so you can step up your sneaker game today.

Photo Credit: UNSW Fashion and Beauty Society; The Daily Beast