When you wake up on a Saturday morning ready to play basketball outside with your friends, what do you wear? You probably throw on an old t-shirt and a pair of shorts. After you slide your feet into a pair of socks, there's one more thing that you probably reach for. What are we talking about? Tennis shoes, of course!
Tennis shoes actually go by many different names: sneakers, athletic shoes, trainers, etc. You may be able to think of several other common names for tennis shoes. So how did these shoes come to be labeled with the name of one sport when they're used for so many different sports and athletic activities?
Shoes have a long history that dates back to the first human beings ever to walk on Earth. Although we don't have historical records that date that far back, we're sure that it probably didn't take ancient man long to figure out that wrapping animal skins around his feet could make traveling long distances much easier.
For thousands of years, shoes developed slowly. For most of history, they were crafted by hand by artisans and cobblers who would custom fit them for individual customers. All that changed in the 18th century with the invention of vulcanized rubber during the Industrial Revolution.
The first rubber-soled shoes were developed in the late 18th century in England. They were called plimsolls and were a far cry from the tennis shoes we know today. For example, they were all the same, which meant that there was no specific right or left foot!
Despite their deficiencies, plimsolls were popular and spurred rapid development of improved models and new styles. In particular, people began to use them for recreational activities, such as playing tennis. The rubber soles did not mark up the tennis court, and they allowed players to stop and start quickly.
Many of the popular shoe brands you know today got their start around this time. In 1892, for example, the U.S. Rubber Company developed a more comfortable rubber shoe with canvas tops that they called Keds. By 1917, they were mass-producing Keds to meet increased demand.
Around that same time, Marquis Converse began to make an athletic shoe specifically designed for basketball. His Converse All-Stars became popular, especially when an Indiana basketball player named Chuck Taylor endorsed them and began working with the company to improve them. Chuck Taylor All-Stars became one of the best-selling basketball shoes of all time.
In the 1920s, a German named Adi Dassler created a new sneaker brand that he named after himself: Adidas. His brother, Rudi, later started his own shoe company: Puma. As new athletic shoes were developed, people around the world began to use them for many different sports. It wasn't until the 1950s, however, that tennis shoes became popular as a fashion statement outside of any connection with athletics.