Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Low Top History
Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Low Top shoes have a long and rich history that spans over a century. They were manufactured by a Massachusetts company built by Marquis Mills Converse in 1908. The business was at first focused on producing galoshes and winter boots which it did quite well. Business was booming as barely two years after the business was put up, Converse was already into daily production.
Since the company was already into manufacturing rubber products, it was only natural that it expand the business into making athletic products that utilized rubber soles. By 1915, records indicate that Converse had produced a few high-top silhouettes including two models that were called ‘Surefoot’ and ‘Big Nine.’ The silhouette that would change the basketball world would come later, in 1917.
Non-Skid was the name Converse first called what we now know as Chucks. The shoes had diamond-patterned outsoles that gripped really well—hence the name. They came in a natural brown canvas color, had small rubber toe caps and black trimmings, and a high-cut build. The sneakers also featured leather patches around the ankles with logos pronouncing ‘Big C.’ These round patches actually had a function and were meant to protect the feet from bruising during play.
Although popular belief would tell you that the Chucks were designed for the sport of basketball, they really were intended for use in playing netball and soccer. It was only later that players found these shoes to be excellent on the court because of their light weight—they were some of the lightest basketball kicks of that period—and their outstanding traction.
In 1920, Converse renamed this model as the All Star. They also launched the sneakers in a black colorway. This new colorway was given instep reinforcements and ‘Bat Wing’ toe bumpers, distinct from the original silhouette.
Back then, sneakers weren’t worn for fashion, but rather, for function only. Almost no one wore these for leisure. The All Star had a shape and construction that was unlike any before it. They filled a gap in the market caused by the increasing popularity of basketball—the sport was only invented in 1891 by James Naismith—and while sales were constant, they weren’t setting trends. Enter Chuck Taylor.
Chuck Taylor: The man synonymous with the game of basketball
Charles “Chuck” Taylor was a Firestone Non-Skids player who played in the Arkon Industrial League. He had been wearing Converse All Stars since varsity high school, and one day, he just went into the Converse store to complain about his sore feet. We don’t know what happened in that meeting, just that he must have impressed the brand because when he came out, it was as a salesman and ambassador of Converse.
Chuck Taylor acted both as player and manager of the Converse basketball team. He began to pitch the shoes while holding basketball clinics all over the country. He would tour around the US countryside and offer to coach teams on the new rules of the young sport. Of course, while he was doing this, he would also be talking about the advantages of using Converse All Stars over other shoes.
Another creative marketing ploy Chuck used was the annual Converse Basketball Yearbook. Not only did the yearbook contain rules of the sport, concepts and tactics for playing, they also featured pictures of basketball teams across the country that he met. And they were all wearing Converse kicks. It’s no wonder then that almost every basketball player during that period wore nothing else but Converse shoes on the court. Because of Chuck’s unique marketing skill, Converse and basketball would grow synonymous with each other.
But it wasn’t all advertising and marketing Chuck did for Converse. He also made a bit of improvement over the design including making the model more flexible and supportive. In 1934, Converse paid tribute to Chuck’s efforts when they added his name to the ankle patch detail. This would mark the rebirth of the All Star as the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star.
When the Second World War came on, Chuck served as a captain in the Air Force. To boost the morale of the troops, he also coached basketball teams there. Of course, the Chuck Taylor shoes went with him too, and GI’s were seen wearing their high-tops while doing their exercises. In this way did the Chuck Taylor All Star become the official sneakers of the USAF.
Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Low Top Shoes
The design of the Chuck Taylor All Star has been largely unchanged after the war. Most of the tweaks came from before, such as the refinement of their non-skid soles in 1919. They added cork insoles, a corrugated sole design, and double reinforced foxings in 1922. The ventilation eyelets—the two holes on the medial side of the Chucks—were added in 1932 and the shoes were also given narrower shanks.
Pivot buttons were also added in by Converse when players complained that their outsoles wore out fast. This was actually a very advanced technology as pivot buttons are still in use today, although in different forms, and can be found on most basketball shoes.
After the war, sports became a national pastime. Basketball grew into a professional game and the establishment of the Basketball Association of America which became the NBA when it merged with the National Basketball League, further catapulted the fame of Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars. Since Converse shoes had already established deep roots in the sport, they became the unofficial shoes of the league.
In the 50s, some players asked for shoes that would let them move more freely. To develop this new silhouette, Converse had the famed Harlem Globetrotters to help them out. They sent dozens of All Stars to the team along with designers to create prototypes. The Globetrotters would test these samples on the court and give feedback on what worked and what didn’t. In this way was the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Ox or Low Tops developed.
The Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Low Top shoes launched in 1957. The Converse low-top and high-top shoes would reign over the courts for a decade more. However, rival brands with high tech innovations, new designs, and using a variety of fabrics began to chip away at Converse’s lion’s share of the market. By the 70s, players were leaving the brand in droves and shifting to these challengers.
However, this was not the end of the brand. While their hold on the basketball court may have loosened, the shoes found a new market in the lifestyle crowd, and as they say, life went on.