Looking at the array of running shoes available on the market today, it’s hard to imagine that the origins of these pieces of running attire can be found just over two centuries ago – the blink of an eye in historical terms.
We’ve certainly come a long way in developing running shoes that are tailored for all kinds of runners, but where did it all start?
Wait Webster patented a process that saw rubber soles being attached to boots and shoes in 1832. Plimsolls, which were mostly worn by children, laid the foundations for the development of shoes that were more comfortable and suited for athletic endeavours.
The Boulton company, that would later become known as Reebok, was the first to add running spikes to Plimsolls in 1852, and companies that would later be more well known for their tyres – Goodyear and Dunlop – also became the manufacturers of rubber-soled shoes in the 19th century.
The latter part of the 1800s also gave rise to the now widely used term “sneakers”. Taking their name from the verb, “to sneak”, these rubber-soled shoes with an upper made from canvas took the name due to their ability to have wearers walk almost silently – they were introduced in 1892.
Adolf Dassler set his sights on creating shoes for specific use during athletics in 1925. These running shoes, manufactured with underfoot cushioning and patented spikes, were extensively used by athletes during the Olympic Games of the early 20th century, perhaps most notably by Jesse Owens. Dassler and his brother ultimately split the company they founded, Addas, into two different running shoe manufacturers: Addas (which would later become Adidas) and Ruda (which later became known as Puma).
New Balance’s Trackster was the first running shoe made in multiple widths when it was introduced to the market in the 1960s, and Nike founder and athletics coach Bill Bauerman’s lightweight and expensive Waffle Trainer didn’t just lead in a new era for running shoes as a whole – Vogue also called it “the hottest symbol of status” in 1974.
In collaboration with Frank Rudy of NASA, Nike also became the first company to add air-cushioned soles to their shoes in 1976, and Japanese manufacturer ASICS took cushioning to the next level in 1986, with a gel-cushioning compound made of silicone.
The new millennium would see shoe manufacturers grasp at tradition, but also add tech to the mix. Barefoot and minimalist shoes became all the rage among runners, while some of the most notable running shoe manufacturers started incorporating tech into their offering. In 2006, Nike introduced the Nike+ Air Zoom Moire, which synched with an iPod to keep track of all the stats of a run, and New Balance first used 3D-technologies to scan a runner’s foot and 3D print a custom shoe in 2013.
Nearing the second decade of the 21st century, running shoe manufacturers are still always on the cusp of innovation, and the running shoes available now are a far cry from the rubber-soled leather boots of yesteryear. Frequenting a shoe store, you are now able to find a shoe that suits your stride with ease. What kind of running shoes will we see in the second half of this century? Time will tell, but we’re convinced things are off to a running start already.