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143 Appendix: The History of the Converse Rubber Shoe Company The Converse All Star shoe did not come about because of Chuck Taylor. He did not conceive it, create it, or produce it. Rather, it was the vicissitudes of a seasonal market for foulweather rubber boots that inspired factory owner Marquis Converse to begin making canvas shoes in 1915, and by 1917 he added an all-purpose gymnasium shoe called the All Star. His company, originally called the Converse Rubber Shoe Co. (later renamed Converse Rubber Co., then Converse, Inc.) and based in Malden, Massachusetts, often sent its employees home for the winter once Christmas break began. Orders for galoshes were lled by then, and new orders would not pick up until the spring. As an internal Converse company history noted,“[m]anufacturing canvas tennis shoes helped to smooth employment seasonally by keeping workers busy when there was little demand for waterproof products.”1 It’s clear that the All Star was not the rst “basket ball” shoe. Basketball historian Robert W. Peterson writes that A. G. Spalding & Brothers made a rubber-soled, canvas, high-top basketball shoe circa 1900, and his book reproduces an ad for it from 1904.2 It looks like a cross between a men’s wrestling shoe and a lace-up ladies’ boot. 10ChuckAppen.indd 11/18/05, 3:02 PM 143 144 Appendix The market for a basketball shoe clearly existed before the All Star’s appearance in 1917. Basketball was a growing sport, and physical education was a core American value, both for YMCAs and public schools. Other early basketball shoe manufacturers included Mor-Shu and Reach. The latter company made “Good tting Basket Ball Shoes” and promoted them through their Reach Guides, which covered professional basketball from about 1902 to 1926. (Reach and Spalding both published basketball guides prior to the Converse Basketball Yearbooks, which began in 1922.) Additionally, Goodyear made the “Wingfoot” by 1921, if not before; the Akron Goodyear Wingfoots played in them exclusively. Yet the rubber-soled, canvas-top shoe apparently was not created by any of these companies. According to Cameron Kippen of Curtin University of Technology in Perth,Australia, “[b]y the 1860s a croquet shoe was marketed which had a rubber sole with a canvas upper fastened with laces.”3 This was in England. Later in the nineteenth century, seaside“plimsoll ” shoes also had rubber bottoms and canvas uppers. The term “sneaker” dates from this era, writes Kippen, because thieves allegedly preferred the rubber-soled shoes as it was easier to sneak about silently in them. Kippen credits U.S. Rubber Co. and “Keds” with being the rst rubber-soled, canvas-top “tennis shoe” in America, and says Converse’s innovation was to make a Keds-type shoe in an ankle-high model. This is at some variance with what Peterson reports, but the role of the U.S. Rubber Co. should not be dismissed. According to Mary Bellis, U.S. Rubber sold their shoe under thirty brand names over the years. The shoe was almost indistinguishable from the All Star, save for a different , more vertical pattern on the front rubber bumper (All Stars have a diamond pattern in front).4 Richard Lapchick, the son of Original Celtic Joe Lapchick, said his father endorsed 10ChuckAppen.indd 11/18/05, 3:02 PM 144 145 The History of the Converse Rubber Shoe Company the similar “Joe Lapchick Basketball Shoe,” also known as “The Playmaker,”exclusively for Kinney Shoe Stores for years.5 U.S. Rubber Co. made it. (The Lapchick endorsement also dates from 1932, the same as Chuck’s.) The All Star was reasonably successful from its inception, but it was not a runaway best-seller until after World War II. Marquis M. Converse, who had previously operated a department store, opened his company with $250,000 in capital and fteen employees in 1908. By 1910, the company was producing 4,000 rubber boots a day. The All Star came along in 1917. “Sales of the All Star were slow but steady until the late 1940s when interest in basketball surged,” the Converse company history reports.6 Chuck Taylor was no more than a journeyman basketball player whose most famous team was the Akron Firestone NonSkids , an important industrial league quintet.Yet he played for the team only during part of the 1920–21 season. His stronger association was with the Chicago-based Converse All-Stars basketball team in the mid-1920s. (The name of...


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