How The Chuck Taylor All Star Became The Most Recognizable Sneaker Of All Time

We take a look back at how the humble basketball shoe reached icon status and became one of the most recognizable shoes of all time.

The basic design of the Chuck Taylor All Star shoe hasn’t changed since 1949—and no one is complaining, which means they must be doing something right. Here’s a look back at the evolution of the legendary sneaker.

In the beginning…

In 1908, Marquis Mills Converse founded the Converse Rubber Corporation and opened the doors for business in Malden, MA. Originally, Converse produced galoshes and other work-related rubber shoes, but by 1915 the seasonal company had shifted gears and had begun making athletic canvas shoes, offering year-round work to Converse employees.

As basketball mania spread across the United States, the Converse Corporation began development of a casual shoe that people could wear to hit the courts. The result? In 1917, the world’s very first performance basketball shoe came off the factory lines. The Converse “non-skid” canvas shoe was the first of its kind, and was released in natural brown colours with a black trim and a thick rubber sole. It was an evolution in footwear, being the very first mass-produced basketball shoe in North America.

By the 1920s, the distinctive canvas basketball shoe, rebranded the “All Star,” was available at select retailers in an all-black canvas and leather version. Sales were slow at first, but it would only be a matter of time before sales would rapidly increase, thanks to a man named Charles H. Taylor.

Chuck Taylor

Charles Hollis Taylor was born in rural Brown County, Indiana, in 1901 and laced up his first pair of Converse canvas basketball shoes in 1917, when he was still a high school basketball player at Columbus High School. After high school, Taylor played semi-professionally with the Original Celtics and the Akron Firestones basketball teams (before the organization of leagues as we now know them).

In 1921, Taylor headed to Chicago in search of a job…and he found one. S.R. “Bob” Pletz was in charge of the Converse sales office at the time, and he hired Taylor as a salesman and player coach for the Converse All Stars, the company’s industrial basketball league. Taylor spent the majority of his illustrious career travelling across the United States hosting basketball clinics and exhibitions, eventually becoming an ambassador for the game of basketball and for Converse.

Taylor was so integral to the early success of the brand and of the early All Star shoe that 12 years into his time with the Converse Corporation, the company recognized him for his priceless contributions. In 1934, the “Chuck Taylor” signature was added to the ankle patch and the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star basketball shoe was born, making it the first-ever signature basketball shoe.

Olympic dreams

The Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars continued to grow in popularity through the early 1930s as basketball teams, and boys all across America began wearing the canvas shoes. But something bigger was on the horizon for the brand and their enthusiastic salesman.

Basketball became an official Olympic sport in 1936, and the United States basketball team played wearing white high top canvas Chuck Taylor All Stars. Team USA dominated the sport, going undefeated for 63 straight games and winning seven consecutive gold medals with the help of their Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars. The shoe, with its patriotic red and blue trim, was an instant favourite both on and off the court, and you can still buy the same white canvas, or off-white, unbleached, models today.

World War II

In 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland and World War II began. Charles Taylor served as a captain in the US Air Force and coached regional basketball teams, which were considered an important morale booster for the troops. But Taylor wasn’t the only one to head off to war in support of his country…. Converse footwear went to war too.

In 1942, Converse shifted production to support the war effort by designing the A6 Flying Boot—worn by the entire US Army Air Corps. Also, the white high top Chuck Taylor All Star sneaker became the official sneaker of the US Armed Forces as GIs wore them for basic training.

The NBA and beyond

After World War II ended, the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star continued to evolve. In 1949, the classic black and white Chuck Taylor All Star high top was introduced. Probably the most recognizable model today, the black and white design was an instant success.

Thanks in part to Team USA’s success at the Olympics, basketball was now a major professional sport. The merger of the National Basketball League and the Basketball Association of America to create the National Basketball Association (NBA) called for a signature shoe to be added to the uniform of every team, and the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star high top fit the bill perfectly. The distinctive black and white high tops became the go-to shoe not only for professional players, but also for college, high school, and all serious basketball players.

In 1957, the oxford model (low cut) of the Chuck Taylor All Star was introduced, and the shoes became popular as a more casual “off the court” alternative to the athletic high top. By this time, Converse had managed to secure a whopping 80% share of the entire sneaker industry.

RIP Chuck

Because of his tireless efforts promoting the sport, Taylor was recognized as an “Ambassador to Basketball” and in 1969, Charles H. ‘Chuck’ Taylor was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Later that same year, Taylor retired from Converse, and just one day short of his 68th birthday in June 1969, he died of a heart attack in Port Charlotte, Florida.

Unfortunately, along with the passing of Chuck Taylor went the dominance of the Converse Corporation. New rival companies, spearheaded by the Nike Corporation, stepped in and began to chip away at the market share and influence of Converse. These rival companies introduced new models with new colours, all-leather uppers, and high-tech innovations like pumps and air cells.

Despite their previous loyalty to the Chuck Taylor All Stars, basketball teams started to flock towards other brands. Not even a variety of new colours and new models could compete with the advances that were being made elsewhere in athletic footwear.

Chucks

The 1970s kicked off a more casual era of fashion, and the Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars began being widely referred to as “Chucks.”

Athletic shoes became so popular as footwear that adults refused to give up wearing them, and new shoe companies quickly popped up offering a wide variety of basketball and other sport and leisure shoes. Converse responded to the strong competition that was emerging throughout the ’70s by introducing Chucks in a variety of colours.

Chucks, once the premier shoe of elite basketball players, now became the affordable shoe of the counter-culture and of baby boomers, rock stars, artists and teenagers. Converse responded by embracing the leisure shoe concept and began manufacturing Chucks in hundreds of different variations including prints, patterns, vibrant colours, and special models specifically marketed to different age groups. The brand’s thought process? Now there was so much variety that even if you and all your friends had a pair of Chucks, yours still had their own unique personality.

Hard times and bankruptcy

The 1980s and 1990s were rough for the Converse Corporation as the ownership and management changed several times. Instability, bad business decisions and a dramatic loss of their market share took their toll on the company, and in 2001 it was forced to file for bankruptcy.

But the brand was too well established to be abandoned, and new ownership eventually took over. After closing all North American manufacturing locations and moving the manufacture of Converse athletic shoes (including the Chuck Taylor All Stars) from the US to Asia, the brand successfully reestablished itself in 2003, when rival company Nike purchased Converse for US$309 million.

Collaborations and the red carpet

Despite all of the innovations and changes in the athletic shoe industry, the Chuck Taylor All Star sneaker continues to live on. They’ve been embraced by sports fanatics and worn by everyone from small-town basketball teams to Olympic athletes, they are a favourite of the music industry, and they’ve been famously worn by Elvis Presley, The Ramones and Kurt Cobain. The Rolling Stones even made the Chuck Taylor All Star the official sneaker of their Steel Wheels Tour in 1989.

Throughout the years, the legendary kicks have been produced in a myriad of colors and patterns. More recently, the iconic sneaker brand has continued to update the look of its signature kicks and appeal to new consumers with high-profile collaborations with DC Comics, Andy Warhol, Maison Martin Margiela, Missoni and Comme des Garçons Play. Doesn’t appeal to you? If you order online, you even have an option to design your own pair of custom-made Chucks, which plays on the best part of the shoes— their versatility.

Chucks may seem like a casual shoe at first glance, but they’ve seen their fair share of red carpet events. Celebs like Drew Barrymore, Ryan Gosling and Kristen Stewart have shown up at high-profile premieres and award shows wearing the iconic kicks. In fact, they’ve become so recognizable that no matter what you pair them with, they always seem to steal the show.

Chuck Taylor All Star II

Converse launched the next evolution of its uber popular Chuck Taylor All Star sneaker in stores around the globe on Tuesday, July 28, 2015. The Chuck Taylor All Star II wasn’t a replacement to the iconic sneaker or a special edition; it’s an update and an additional offering from the iconic brand.

The silhouette of the Chuck Taylor All Star II is exactly the same as that of its predecessor, but the inside of the new sneaker features plenty of innovative updates, including a padded no-slip tongue, a perforated micro-suede lining for comfort, unique white foxing, and a more cushioned sole with plenty of arch support thanks to Nike’s famous Lunarlon cushioning foam technology.

Today…

Today, two pairs of Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars are sold every second of every day worldwide, and the canvas sneaker has truly reached icon status. Unlike other sneakers that lose their popularity, Chucks remains fashionable and people are almost fanatical in their devotion to the legendary canvas shoes.

As the decades pass, these simple but timeless sneakers are rediscovered and adapted by millions of people of each new generation, who love the shoe’s look and versatility. Of course, the release of the Chuck Taylor All Star II extended that reach by offering all-day comfort with arch support, cushioned soles and a breathable lining.

The basic design of the Chuck Taylor All Star basketball shoe hasn’t changed since 1949—and no one is complaining, which means they must be doing something right. While Converse will probably never stop coming up with innovative ways to evolve as a brand, the Chuck Taylor All Star sneaker, and now the Chuck Taylor All Star II sneaker in the high top and low cut oxford models, will always be known as the quintessential American sneaker. Chuck’s here to stay.

Christopher Turner

Christopher Turner

AmongMen’s Editor-in-Chief is a well-respected fashion and style writer whose works have appeared in Fashionism, Fashion Television, MSN, DesignLines, the Kaboose Network, the Disney Family Network and Sun Media. He also has a collection of designer kicks that would make Imelda Marcos blush and lives in Toronto’s trendy east end. Follow him at: @Turnstylin.

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