The first running shoe is a relatively new invention – it dates back about 200 years. However, it’s much older than you could probably imagine.
The first sneakers were made of leather, which unfortunately had the tendency to stretch when wet, and wore out very quickly. Also, the first runners were not really meant to absorb the shock from impact and support an athlete’s joints – so, the risk of injury was extremely high, and feet suffered from pain dramatically.
Wanna trace the evolution of shoes for running from initial attempts to high-quality modern technologies for sportspeople? The history’s right below.
In 1832, Wait Webster patented a process whereby rubber soles could be attached to the shoes and boots, which led to the creation of Plimsolls, worn majorly by children.
In 1852, the running spikes were first pronounced by the founder of the Boulton company (today Reebok), Joseph William Foster. The spikes were added to the bottom of Plimsolls for improved grip.
Thus, the running shoes of the 1860s, stored in one of the British museums, feature spikes on the sole – the only thing that differentiates them from the casual men’s footwear of that time. Later, in 1890, Joseph William Foster, who made handmade running shoes, created a novelty spiked running shoe to help runners shave down their times.
Rubber soled shoes in 19 century were manufactured by such companies as Goodyear and Dunlop.
For a very long time, sports footwear was considered as an attribute of a luxury life – both the technology and the ability to spend free time doing sports referred to wealthy people only. Running shoes became a popular and inexpensive item only after the First World War.
Everything changed when people began to use rubber for industrial purposes and to connect a rubber sole with an upper from the canvas in 1892. Flat-bottomed, lightweight, and flexible, these shoes allowed almost silent walking – and their name “sneakers” came from the verb “to sneak”.
Beginning of the XX century: The Dasslers
Adolf Dassler, who invented running shoes in their modern design in the 1920s, developed different sneakers for long-distance runners and sprinters. In 1925 he manufactured the special shoes for athletics (sprinter running and long jump) and patented spikes with a cushion underfoot.
The first running shoes, designed by Adi Dassler, were meant for short and medium distances (up to 800 m). His creations were internationally acknowledged as the best and recognized by many athletes of the caliber of Jesse Owens. The first gold medal in the Dassler brothers’ shoes was received by Lina Radke at the Summer Olympic Games in 1928 in Amsterdam. Her result in the 800-meter race was 2: 16: 8.
In 1948 the Dassler brothers founded Addas, which later split into Addas (later Adidas) and Ruda (later Puma).
In 1949 Dassler added three side stripes to give support to the running shoe.
Popular models of the period included: Adidas Waitzer, Adidas 10.0, Adidas Tokyo 64 and some other.
The 1960s: New Balance Produces the Tracksters
The Trackster from New Balance was the first running shoe made in multiple widths. Accommodating more runners than ever, they allowed for an ideal fit.
With a rippled outsole, the Trackster enhanced traction, absorbed shock, and prevented from injuries, which were common with the metal spiked sprint shoes of that period.
The 70s and the World of Running
In the 70s running became one of the most fashionable types of active leisure, even with wealthy people, so the manufacturers of sports shoes could not pass by. It was the running shoes that the history of Nike began: one of its founders Bill Bauerman, athletics coach, was obsessed with the idea of making shoes for running lightweight as much as possible and experimented with technology a lot. In 1974, he came up with bright, lightweight, and expensive Waffle Trainer, which was called “the hottest symbol of status” by Vogue magazine.
According to the story, Bauerman made his first waffle sole using his wife’s waffle iron. The kitchen gadget was destroyed (now it is stored in the Nike museum), but a technical breakthrough took place.
1976: Space Age Running Shoes
This year Frank Rudy of NASA designed the first air-cushioned athletic shoe in collaboration with Nike. He offered the idea of bags filled with pressurized gas that compress under impact. Thus, Rudy introduced air-cushion soles to the market, which are still used today, 40 years later.
The 1980s: Midsole Technologies Era
Nike, Reebok, and Adidas dominated the market of running shoes, lots of celebrities were found wearing and promoting new cushioned designs and technologies.
In 1981 Saucony launched the Jazz trainer with the triangular tread blocks on the sole, which was a new way for footwear to absorb the impact on the runner’s midsole during long runs.
In 1984 Adidas Micropacer featured electronic pedometer stitched into the tongue – the first attempt to meld electronics with running shoes.
In 1986 ASICS launched their first trainer with GEL cushioning compound made of silicone. It was found to displace 28% more impact than traditional Air technology. GEL cush system is still featured in all of ASICS’ cushioned shoes.
In 1987 Nike makes a revolution in the world of running, creating Nike Air Max – the world’s first sneakers with a visible air cushion as a shock absorber.
Our century has become a time of accelerated development of running shoe technologies:
- in 2004 first version of Nike Free minimalist shoe was offered to athletes, however, non-runners also wore them in everyday life;
- in 2005 Vibram released the Five Fingers shoe for kayaking, which, actually, popularized among runners as a barefoot minimalist sneaker, allowing the foot move naturally;
- in 2006 Nike launched the Nike+ Air Zoom Moire, which allowed to sync your running shoes with your iPod to record time, burned calories, and distance;
- in 2013 New Balance presented the first running sneakers, manufactured using 3D-technologies: the laser scanner determines the individual characteristics of your foot, and the sole of your ideal runners is printed on the special 3D-printer bearing those characteristics in mind;
- in 2015 companies offered super lightweight models, which weighed less than 3 ounces.
Running Shoes Today
These days there are lots of running shoe companies that offer a very wide choice of sneakers for any tastes and needs, to suit different surfaces, distances, and styles: shoes available in different widths, top training shoes for flat feet, minimalist and barefoot shoes… Just go and take whatever you want.
And what are we going to expect from the next generation of running shoes? Shoes made from protocells? Shoes capable of self-repair? Synthetic materials that have properties of organic matter?
Only time will tell.