Who Invented Tennis Shoes? A Brief History of Tennis Shoes

When you plan on going outside and enjoying a game of basketball, what are the pre-requisites? We’d say a t-shirt and shorts and definitely some socks paired up with tennis shoes. Here, we’ll be learning about who invented tennis shoes and it’s history.

But many people have this question: Since they’re headed out to play basketball, why are they putting on tennis shoes?

Actually, tennis shoes have multiple different names: Trainers, sneakers, athletic shoes, etc. So, how did these shoes become such an integral of our lives and how did they get the label with the name of a sport when in reality they’re usable for many sports?

Making of the First Tennis Shoes

Tennis Shoes History and invention

The very first of the tennis shoes featured canvas uppers and rubber soles and were designed and made during the early 700s. Their main user was the British Navy who aimed to use them to stop slipping on their decks. In 1892, tennis shoes were introduced to the market as it was with the name “pilmsolls.” They had no difference in the feet and were named “sneakers” as they didn’t make a sound when you walked in them. Shoes back in the day had a notorious reputation of being quite noisy when someone walked in them.

The design remained unchanged till the late ‘60s until many other designs started taking over the market. Various companies launched their own version of the tennis shoe. In fact, they got modified to the extent that current day sneakers are almost entirely different from tennis shoes you’d be able to find back in those days. Tennis shoes have been made that specifically accommodate tennis players by keeping the essence of its name intact while there have been releases for other sports as well such as running.

The United States Rubber Company began making their personal brand of tennis shoes in 1916, or canvas shoes with rubber soles, and named them Keds. 1917 saw Converse Rubber Company introduce All-Star show, their version of “Keds.” The style and design of the authentic tennis shoes remain intact for the most part even with major changes till the ‘60s which marks the decade where many show designers decided to experiment with a view to raising the standard of their “tennis shoe.”

Bill Bowerman, coach of the University of Oregon, was a leading personality in this. His idea was to come out with something that’s much lighter and offers better traction to the wearer. He wanted an “elevated” shoe that would advertise advanced comfort with a nylon body instead of canvas to make it lighter, and soft inner insoles. The company was named Nike – taken from the name of the Greek goddess of conquest. The rest is history.

Puma, Adidas, and other brands also jumped on board as they started working on tennis shoes that the modern world knows today.

The Origin of Tennis Shoes

The tennis shoe varies in meaning to people. Some merely consider as sneakers with a unique name, but the rubber soled canvas shoe’s roots can be traced back to the old British Navy. In 1880’s, the British fleet’s soldiers needed shoes that would protect them from sliding and slipping on wet surfaces. The shoes found popularity within the rich aristocrats who loved wearing them during playing a sport that was much popular back then – tennis. Thus, the name “tennis” was moved before the word “shoes.”

The first athletic shoes were introduced in 1839 after Charles Goodyear commercialized volcanized rubber, making the rubber soles on the shoes significantly more resistant to heat and stable. After Keds and All-Star made their debut in 1900 and 1917 respectively, Adidas came out with a shoe specifically for tennis players in 1931. Year 1960: Adidas wished to revolutionize how people played sports alongside the shoes they play them in.

Canvas was replaced with leather in the uppers. The people loved this and Adidas skyrocketed in fame. Other companies followed suit and this was mainly the point that encouraged manufacturers to experiment with materials while making tennis shoes.

The advent of the brand new Nike Air Trainer 1 in the 1980s was another evolutionary phase in the history of tennis shoes. These pairs offered latera support as well as a securing strap for the foot so users could freely move it side-to-side during tennis. Not only that, but there was also a heel lift a bit higher than the regular running shoe.

This can be marked as the beginning of the modern era of sneakers, or tennis shoes. The industry has only gotten stronger over time and companies compete to bring out more comfortable, stable, and supportive tennis shoes that allow players to be their very best on court.

Where Did the Name Come From?

Although the primary purpose of inventing tennis shoes was the navy but since the wealthy had shown their interest in it for their love of the popular sport back in the days – tennis, the name became permanent. There was a need for show that wouldn’t harm the tennis courts and still be comfortable for a soft rubber sole. Thus, soft soled shoes made for the navy became tennis shoes.

In fact, the “bland” tennis shoes are the originators of all athletic shoes which were introduced after the 18th century. Even today, some people will call their sneakers the age old name, tennis shoes. From a technical point of view, the modern tennis shoe is very different from the average athletic shoe or sneaker specifically developed to cater to a tennis player. 

Bottom Line

Isn’t it amazing that Nike, Puma, and Adidas were all born because three different minds wanted to put their unique spin on the first tennis shoe? The rubber-soled, heavy canvas shoes that was originally made for British sailors so they wouldn’t slip on deck became one of the most popular kinds of shoe in the entire world about three centuries later.

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