It is thought that people have been jogging and running since the beginning of time. People ran for various reasons from catching dinner to entertainment to escaping from danger. Racing became popular in ancient Greece and Rome. The word marathon is actually derived from Marathon, Greece. The people of Rome and Greece led very athletic lifestyles and held the first Olympics in 776 B.C.E. The sandals worn by these people exemplified this active lifestyle. They were open so the foot would stay cool and had straps behind the heel so the foot would stay in place. Even though these types of sandals were popular during this time period Olympic runners ran barefoot. The only event that was held at the first Olympics was a 200-yard race. Only men were allowed to participate and there was only one race held per day. The runners found that the sandals that were good for everyday use were clumsy and not quite developed enough to be advantageous for racing.
Runners began to add layers of moss to the insides of their shoes for comfort, support, and absorbency. They were trying to achieve qualities in footwear that we today strive to achieve. Sandals were still the most popular type of shoes to the Greeks and Romans as they are still today in similarly warm climates. During this time period shoes only came in at most three sizes, leaving a lot to be desired as far as comfort is concerned. Most shoes also had no distinction between the left and the right the sole was a straight piece of material. It wasn’t until 1800 that the first shoes were manufactured specifically for the left and right foot.
The 19th century was a time of immense development for rubber. Wait Webster of New York received the first patent for rubber soled shoes known as plimsoles. They were developed and manufactured in the United States using India rubber. A few decades later Charles Goodyear introduced vulcanization, which is the heating up of rubber and addition of sulfur to add strength and flexibility. After the rubber was heated it was melded to cloth or other rubbers. The Goodyear Metallic Rubber Shoe Company was one of nine that joined to form the U.S. Rubber Company.
In the 1860’s a sewing machine was developed that was able to chain stitch together the upper, lower and inner parts of the shoe. Various types of sewing machines were being used in great numbers across the country; the sewing machine was one of the great inventions to come out of the industrial revolution going on in North America during this time. The use of the sewing machine wasn’t necessary until now when shoes began to be mass-produced and distributed. The first rubber and canvas shoes were also manufactured during the 1860’s.
These rubber and canvas shoes were called sneaks or sneakers. It is thought that the name is derived from the fact that they were the only shoes, except moccasins, that didn’t make noise when worn; the wearer could literally sneak around. Sneakers were practical for all types of uses from everyday use to athletic activities. There is debate over where the word “sneaks” or “sneakers” was first used but the most common belief is that Henry Nelson McKinney whom worked for the advertising agency N.W. Ayer and Son coined the word. This was obviously marketing that stuck because the word sneaker is still used today.
The rubber footwear divisions of the U.S. Rubber Company manufactured products under 30 different brand names until 1916. They decided it would be best to market their many sneakers under one name. Their top choice was Peds, Latin for foot, but this was already a registered trademark so they decided on either Veds or Keds. Finally they chose Keds because it sounded stronger.
Even though shoe technology had come a long way since the barefoot runners in the Olympics companies had yet to develop shoes for specifics athletic activities. Joseph William Foster was an avid runner and desired to have a shoe conducive to running. He invented a shoe that became highly demanded among his friends. Eventually, after two generations of shoe production, the company became known as Reebok, named after a fast running gazelle. Foster’s company noticed the high demand for specialized shoes and not just in type also in fit and design. His company began to create custom running shoes for many of the top athletes.
In the mid 1930’s Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics wearing shoes made by brothers Rudolph and Adolph Dassler. The brothers later split to create two companies known as Puma, named after a big cat, and Adidas, named after Adolph’s nickname Adi (Das). Adolph ran his company based on the “fundamental belief that sport comes first.” This is a sign of the times that people were buying and desiring shoes that were specifically designed for their needs and a sign that the companies recognized this desire. Still today that mindset is posted on the home page of the Adidas website.
Phil Knight, a business major at the University of Oregon and a miler on the track team was unhappy with the types of running shoes that were currently available. In the early 1960’s he decided along with his coach Bill Bowerman to form a company to market a shoe that Bowerman had designed. The shoe was lightweight and comfortable in running conditions. Bowerman and Knight did the only marketing in person. The pair traveled the country to track meets selling their running shoes and becoming more and more successful and well known. The shoes were first known as Tiger Shoes and their defining characteristic was a cushion heel wedge designed by Bowerman. The company, originally called Blue Ribbon Sports, became known as Nike, named after the Greek goddess of victory.
Demand for the specialized shoe showed that consumers were ready for further innovation in footwear. The first big innovation for Nike came in 1972 when Bowerman poured rubber into a waffle iron in his kitchen. This was the birth of the waffle sole as well as the best selling running shoe in the country. Later on that year Bowerman paid a student $35 to deign a trademark for the growing company. He wasn’t thrilled with the “swoosh” that the student came up with but it was to later become the backbone of Nike advertising, a status symbol, and a cultural icon. Nike soon became by far the leader in athletic footwear sales and design.
NASA was not only making strides for the space program during the late 20th century, but was also working with Nike to develop the first air cushioned athletic shoe. Frank Rudy from NASA brought the idea of bags filled with pressurized gas that compress under impact to Nike. The bags absorb shock and cushion the foot. The cushioned were placed in the soles on Nike shoes and are still used today, twenty years later.
Nike took advantage of big name sports stars during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Endorsements from people such as Michael Jordan accompanied with the feeling of movement produced by the “swoosh” and the catchy phrase “Just Do It.” The television commercials for Nike portray the same feeling of movement that was the desired effect of the “swoosh”. By choosing sport super stars Nike appealed to the younger generations who idolized these figures and aspired to “be like Mike”. Nike advertising helped to boost sales and create some of the most effective and memorable advertising seen thus far. Athletic shoes were becoming more of a fashion statement than an athletic item. There were even reports in the early 1990’s of people killing to wear brand names. A teenager in Detroit was shot for his parka and $70 Nike shoes.
As Nike becomes more and more of a status symbol, cultural icon, and success they begin to add two new designs to their line each year. Sales increase in the early 1990’s to over $6 billion. People began to call into question the huge profits that Nike was bringing in annually. It was discovered that the company was paying workers in Indonesia as little as 15 cents an hour to manufacture Nike products. Regardless though of the bad press that surrounded Nike during these years they continued to develop innovative technology for running shoes and stay on top. The shoes each year became more complicated and more expensive.
Another shoe manufacturer, Fila, was also creating high end, complex shoes. These shoes appeared to be athletic but weren’t designed with any sport, such as jogging, in mind when they were designed. They were created for the 70% of consumers that buy athletic shoes but don’t use them for sports. Fila based a lot of their advertising campaigns on the complexity of the shoe. When worn the complexity of the shoe makes the shoe look like it was designed with greater care and expense making the wearer look like someone deserving of such attention to a single aspect of their clothing. The Fila shoes and advertising also placed great emphasis on the Fila logo. The manufacturer understood that the people wearing the shoes wanted everyone to know what brand they were wearing and what brand they could afford.
Several youth sub cultures began to emerge and rebel against the highly complex, expensive, and over marketed shoes produced by companies such as Nike and Fila. Smaller companies such as Adidas and Puma recognized the emergence of these groups and began to cater to their desires. The “old school” style of shoes from the 1960’s and 1970’s was popular among many of these sub cultures. Adidas began to remanufacture 1960’s era sneakers that boosted their sales 80%. Puma also introduced 1960’s style basketball sneakers, one million of which were quickly sold. The demand for these sneakers showed the much of America’s youth was tired of paying too much for products they don’t need. Since 70% of the athletic shoes purchased weren’t being worn for their intended purpose then why should they be buying them at all?
Vans and Airwalk were two additional shoe manufacturers popular among these groups. The shoes were simple, practical and reasonably priced. Vans main marketing strategy was “back to the basics” as well as promoting their made in America policies. The latter strategy was an additional stab at Nike. Since consumers were outraged at Nike manufacturing plants Vans used this outrage to their advantage making the consumer feel like they were on the same side against companies such as Nike. From the success of these companies it is clear the Americans were fed up with over priced footwear.
Nike still remains the leader in active footwear by a long shot. The innovations they have developed as well as their use of common ideology in their advertising keep them at the top. As far as serious runners and joggers are concerned few have any qualms against complex or pricey shoes. Their main goal when purchasing footwear is to buy the product that is right for their sport.
- “Ancient Olympics”, Ancient Olympics http://www.johncarlos.com/ancient.html
- “Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight: The Modern Athletic Shoe”, The Invention Dimension http://web.mit.edu/invent/www/inventorsa-h/bowermanknight.html
- “Cultural Relevance”, History of Sneaker Development http://ww2.mcgill.ca/arch/stuff/studentp/jm/cult.htm
- “First Rubber Soled Shoes/Sneakers”, The History of Shoes http://inventors.about.com/library/inventirs/blshoe.htm
- Menon, P. Sreevalsan “Footloose and Fancy Free”, The Week Aug. 4 2002 http://www.the-week.com/22sug04/life1.htm
- “Nike Timeline”, Nike Sports Research Lab http://www.nike.com/nikebiz/nikebiz.jhtml
- “Track and Field Athletics: History”, The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia 1994 Columbia University Press http://www.factmonster.com/ce6/sports/A0861600.html
- “Shoe History”, ShoeInfoNet http://www.shoeinfonet.com/history/usm/hi_shoes.htm