History of The Running Shoe

Running shoes are athletic shoes designed for running. They offer support, comfort, and motion control. The best part is, they’re lightweight. This makes them not only ideal for running but one of today’s most popular choices for day-to-day use.

It wasn’t always that way. Early running shoes were scrappy, uncomfortable, and unattractive by today’s standards. When you think about it, the history of the running shoe is a bit comical.

The first humans on the planet trod the earth barefooted. Tough times, right? Eventually, sandals were fashioned and worn. Then came the advent of rubberized sneakers!

Well, today, barefoot running is the trend and a $1.7 billion industry, but that doesn’t mean it’s here to stay. Trends come and go, and let’s face it, people like comfort.

The History Of The Running Shoe

Athletic shoes have undergone radical changes in centuries past, dating back to 1832 when Wait Webster patented the process of adding rubber soles to shoes and boots. Let’s take a closer look at the major turning points in running shoe history. Dates are relative.

Spiked Shoes: 1852-1916

The first shoes specifically designed for running were developed in 1852 by the Spalding Company. They had six spikes in the soles with low-cut kangaroo leather uppers. They were extremely expensive at the time and typically used by high-profile athletes only.

By 1894, the Spalding catalog featured three different models of spiked shoes for running.  They were designed to be light for long distances and provide greater traction for sprints.

Keds: 1917-1935

One of the earliest version of a running shoe we know of are the Plimsoll shoes. It sported a rubber sole with a cloth upper, the first of its kind. They were lightweight and extremely comfortable for their time. Another distinguishing feature was their quietness, hence the term “sneakers” was born.

It wasn’t long before this technology reached North America. The first sneakers marketed in America went under the name of Keds. Keds were the first to sell these types of shoes on a mass scale. They were hugely popular and people did everything in them. They were the latest and greatest of that era.

Shoes Designed For Sport: 1936-1949

The rise of competitive sports demanded more specialized shoes and that’s where Adolf Dassler comes into play. He is regarded as the “father of the modern running shoe”. In 1936, his acclaimed running shoes were used in the Olympics by athletes such as Jesse Owens. He founded the company Adidas in 1948 and the trademark three-stripe symbol on the side of his shoes first appeared in 1949.

Modern Running Shoes: 1950-Current

Since the 1950s, running shoes have varied greatly in construction, style, and features. It’s become an extremely competitive market with many niches. A few interesting facts in recent years include:

  • 1974: the birth of the Nike Waffle shoe, designed to have runners land on their heels while running.
  • 2005: the launch of the Nike Free, a shoe designed to give runners more flexibility and free foot motion.
  • 2005: the introduction of the Vibram FivFingers, a shoe designed to have runners land on the ball of their foot.
  • 2011: the growing trend of barefoot running, a $1.7 billion industry.
Running shoes will continue to undergo design changes in conjunction with scientific research and the supply and demand principle. From what we’ve seen throughout history, the best is yet to come!
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