The Evolution of the Running Shoe

October 18, 2021 · CLASSMATES FUN

They’re called many things: Sneakers, trainers, athletic shoes, tennis shoes, runners, and kicks. But no matter what you know them as, the fact is they’ve been around for over a century, taking on different forms and constantly changing to fit the times. Here’s a look back on the history of the running shoe.



Wait Webster of New York patented the process of attaching rubber soles to shoes and boots.


The Croquet shoe was made with a rubber sole and a canvas upper that fastened with laces. The rubber sole made movement noiseless, meaning you could sneak up on people, which is most likely why athletic shoes are nicknamed “sneakers.”  Also in the 1860s, in France, there was a rise in demand for lightweight cycling shoes.



One of the earliest running shoes in production was a running spike found in Northampton, England that looked like nails had been hammered into the bottom of the shoe. It was leather and was used for cross country running.


Joseph William Foster was a British shoemaker who handmade athletic shoes. He loved running and wanted to increase speed, so he joined with his sons to create J.W. Foster and Sons. They made shoes for top runners of that time, including Olympians. Foster’s Grandson took over the company in 1958 and renamed it Reebok.


The Spalding Company made shoes specifically for basketball, and running spikes gradually became longer, up to two inches. Shoemakers also began stitching separate leather strips around the top to prevent stretching.


Canvas shoes made for sports became popular, and both Keds® and Converse® sold them.


The United States Basketball Team adopted Converse® Chucks as its official shoe.


Brothers Adolph “Adi” Dassler and Rudolph Dassler had rival shops in the same German town, both specializing in track and field footwear. Rudolph launched what became known as Puma and Adi launched what became known as Adidas®.


New Balance introduced the first scientifically tested shoe.


Phil Knight set up a company to sell cheap but good quality shoes imported from Japan, eventually calling the business Nike, Inc. He sold the Cortez shoe, which had a sponge rubber midsole and provided cushioning against the impact of the road, out of the back of vans at races.

Early 1970s:

Ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) began to be used between the inner and outer sole of the running shoe, which provided cushioning and absorbed shock.

Late 1970s:

Nike used the waffle iron as inspiration for the pattern of its latest shoe, creating a lighter traction sole for track shoes. It was later introduced as the first female-specific shoe.


Nike created heel-cushioning bubble technology for its Air Max.


Minimalism became popular, which led to the invention of FiveFingers® for barefoot running, which is a glove-like shoe for the foot.



Shoes are now mostly lighter and more comfortable, reduce waste, and return more energy back to the runner.


Who knows what the future holds, but one thing is for sure – the running shoe will never cease popularity and will continue to evolve!