The tennis shoe came onto the market around 1892 and were called plimsolls. They had neither a left nor right foot and were named sneakers because they were silent. That was a huge changes from the shoes of the day that had solid hard soles and made a lot of noise.
In 1916 the United States Rubber Company started making their own brand of tennis shoe, or rubber-soled canvas shoes, calling them Keds. By 1917 sneakers began to be mass produced and Marquis Converse produced the first shoe made just for basketball, called Converse All-Stars. In 1923, an Indiana hoops star named Chuck Taylor endorsed the shoes, and they became known as Chuck Taylor All-Stars. These are the best-selling basketball shoes of all time.
Sneakers went international in 1924 when a German man named Adi Dassler created a sneaker that he named after himself: Adidas. Track star Jessie Owens wore Adidas when he won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics. Adi’s brother Rudi started up another famous sports shoe company: Puma.
Even with the new brands, the style and design of the shoe changed little until the 1960’s which is when a lot of the shoe designers started to experimenting to try to improve the standard of the athletic or “tennis shoe” Adidas made a shoe specifically for playing tennis in 1931.
The University of Oregon coach Bill Bowerman wanted to design a more lightweight shoe that would offer a lot more traction, offer more comfort and be more lightweight. He named his company Nike, after the Greek goddess of victory and the rest is history.
Adidas, Puma and other brands also got on board and started to develop the tennis shoe into what we know today, and as pro tennis player involved with the development the shoes took on a whole new look.
Originally sports shoes were worn mostly to play sports, but in the 1950s, kids began wearing them and teens followed the fad after seeing James Dean in sneakers in movie Rebel Without a Cause.
In the 1980’s Nike introduced their Air Trainer 1, which offered lateral support, a strap that secured the foot for the side-to-side movement and a heel lift that was a little higher than average. And so the modern era of tennis shoes was born.
Sales of sneakers skyrocketed in 1984, when Michael Jordan signed a contract to wear a Nike shoe called Air Jordans. Even after Jordan retired from the NBA, his shoes continued to be best sellers.
As companies competed, they changed the design by adding colors and eliminating laces. And, the shoes began to be produced for every sport: walking, skateboarding and cross training, you name it. Additionally, there were design changes that include gas pocket to create better cushioning, air could be pumped into shoes to make them fit more snugly, springs in the soles to reduce foot stress, etc.
Of course, innovations like these come with a price: they plain black ones of the 1950s cost $3 or so. That was the equivalent of a little over $30 today. Nowadays a pair of tennis shoes, or what ever you want to call them, will set you back $100 to $200.