Learn how running shoes evolved throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
Having a shoe designed specifically for running seems like a no brainer, however, running shoes really didn’t get their start until the end of the 19th century. They then slowly evolved over the 20th century, leading to the huge explosion of running shoe technology and design options that are currently available. It is hard to believe that if running shoes had not been developed, we would be running in the flat soled tennis shoes.
The Birth of the Running Shoe
Running footwear had been almost non-existent prior to the late 19th century. In fact, many people ran in whatever footwear they had, including boots and sandals. However, in the 1890s the shoe manufacturer JW Foster and Sons, which eventually became the shoe company Reebok , developed the first official modern running shoe. This shoe had a tennis shoe outer with a lacing system and metal spikes attached to the sole of the shoe. The spikes were designed to give the runner traction and to help improve their overall running speed.
The Running Shoe Evolves in the 20th Century
By the early part of the 20th century, vulcanization revolutionized shoe manufacturing. Vulcanization was simply the process of melting rubber and fabric together. This molten mixture was then molded to create a sole for shoes that had a tread design. This design revolution made shoes lightweight, quiet, and flexible. It also provided the wearer with traction. Keds was the first American company to mass distribute the new “sneakers” starting in 1917.
In 1925 a German inventor named Adi Dassler, who founded Adidas , evolved the spiked running shoe design further by creating a series of running shoes. Each shoe design had a special hand forged set of running spikes and each design was made especially for a certain running distance. This was the first time designs were focused on whether the runner was a sprinter or a long-distance runner.
During the 1970s running shoes were designed based not only on the type of running the person did, but the running style the runner had. The three running styles that shoes were designed for included neutral runners, supernation runners and pronation runners. The final advancement that running shoes received during the 1970s was the use of ethylene vinyl acetate, also referred to as EVA. This material added an air cushion to the design of a running shoe providing runners with extra cushion and shock absorption when they ran.