Converse Chuck Taylor All Star High Top History
Converse Chuck Taylor All Star High Top shoes have a long and interesting history that covers, amazingly, more than a century. But to get to know the shoes, you must first get to know the company behind it.
Converse is a shoe company that was founded in 1908 by Marquis Mills Converse in Malden, Massachusetts. The company specialized in manufacturing galoshes and winter boots for men, women, and children, and they were doing quite well. By 1910, they were producing shoes daily, but it would still be five years before they would expand to manufacturing athletic footwear.
They adapted their rubber knowledge to sneakers in 1915, producing high-top silhouettes including a couple called ‘Big Nine’ and ‘Surefoot.’ In 1917, they produced a new silhouette that would change the face of basketball. They called it the ‘Non-Skid’—named after the diamond-patterned soles of the shoes that were supposed to be really grippy.
Non-Skid shoes had canvas uppers in a natural brown color, black trimmings, small rubber toecaps, and a high profile construction. These became some of the lightest basketball shoes during that time. They also sported round leather patches on the ankles with the brand’s ‘Big C’ logo, not as a way to announce the manufacturer of the shoes but to protect the ankles from bruising. It wouldn’t be until the year 1920 when they’d name this silhouette as the All Star.
In the same year that they changed the shoes’ name, they also launched them in an all black colorway with uppers made of either canvas or leather. The shoes weren’t originally intended for basketball but for the sport of soccer and netball (a kind of early version of basketball). Basketball was a fairly young sport then, having been conceived of barely 26 years before by a Canadian-American named James Naismith.
Sales of the kicks were slow at first because sneakers were only viewed as sportswear and not as something you’d put on for leisure. Although the unique construction of the shoes was something that wasn’t seen before and was deemed by a few to be good for the sport of basketball, the kicks never really enjoyed the success they did until Charles “Chuck” Taylor entered the scene.
Chuck Taylor: The man behind the brand’s most popular silhouette
Chuck Taylor was a basketball player who first came to the attention of Converse in 1921. The Akron Industrial League player who played for the Firestone Non-Skids had been wearing Converse Non-Skids since high school varsity. He entered the Converse store complaining of sore feet and departed it as a brand ambassador and salesman of the brand.
Chuck quickly saw the potential in the All Star silhouette and pitched the shoes wherever he went. He held basketball clinics all over the US, teaching teams the newly established rules of the sport, and subtly hinting that Converse shoes would give them the edge over their competition.
He also acted as player-manager for the Converse basketball team and managed to sell the shoes through creative marketing devices such as the annual Converse Basketball Yearbook. This yearbook featured new basketball concepts as well as photos of entire basketball teams that he met across the country. Of course, in the pictures, they were all wearing Converse shoes.
Not only did the yearbooks promote knowledge about basketball fundamentals, but they were also a clever ploy to sell the All Star. Due to Chuck’s exceptional marketing strategy, sales of the high-top sneakers skyrocketed. They became so popular that in the 60s, 90 percent of basketball players, from college to professionals, wore All Star High Top sneakers.
Converse recognized Chuck’s efforts by adding his name to the shoe’s ankle patch detail in 1934. The shoe was from then on known as the Chuck Taylor All Star, or just Chucks as many called them starting in the 70s.
Converse Chuck Taylor All Star
Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars have not gone unchanged over the century. Converse continually tweaked the design in the early years for better performance and according to feedback from players. In 1919, they refined the non-skid soles and added a corrugated pattern. They added cork insoles and double-reinforced foxings in 1922, corrugated edge sole design in the same year, ventilation eyelets in 1932, and they also gave the sneakers narrower shanks.
The company also dropped the ‘Big C’ logo and replaced it with the All Star patch. When players complained that the outsoles wore out too quickly, Converse added a pivot button which is still being used in some form or another on almost all of the basketball shoes still out on the market today.
In 1936, the brand came out with a white high-top version with red and blue stripes along the soles for the Olympics. This style proved to be so popular that Converse used it on all their Chucks from then on.
After the Second World War raged, the public sought to forget about it by focusing on sports. Sports, and basketball, in particular, became extremely popular. The Basketball Association of America was founded in 1946. In 1949, the league changed their name to the National Basketball Association. Because Converse Chuck Taylor All Star High Top sneakers had deep roots in the sport, they became the unofficial shoes of the NBA.
The silhouette would continue to reign supreme for many more years until the late 70s. By then, the shoes’ glory days in the basketball arena were almost over, but the shoes began to shine a lot elsewhere—on the feet of creatives and musical geniuses. The 70s were also the years when Chucks began to sprout new colors aside from their usual black and white. The sky was the limit concerning color, and at one point in time, there were about 500 versions of the kicks available.
The shoes have remained almost unchanged since the 40s, but they have been reinvented in many different ways since then—through the able use of a wide vast of colorways, collaborations with retailers and designers, the release of low-top and mid-top versions, and the launch of a silhouette with retro tweaks thrown in.