- The history of the modern sneaker dates back to the 1800s, when Charles Goodyear invented vulcanized rubber.
- The Pump had an internal inflation mechanism that operated a fitting cushion to make a tighter fit around the ankle.
- Today’s sneaker culture is rooted in the Air Jordan 1, released in 1985.
- The Chuck Taylor All Star dates back to 1917, and its design is timeless.
The history of the modern sneaker dates back to the 1800s, when Charles Goodyear invented vulcanized rubber. He was able to combine lead, sulfur and heat into a form that allowed rubber to hold onto its shape and withstand heat. According to Kicks: The Great American Story of Sneakers author Nicholas Smith, the very first rubber-soled sneakers were made decades later, for playing croquet.
Soon after that, the market for functional, good-looking sports shoes began to grow. Some of the best-selling ones are iconic, wildly popular, and have become fashion statements and status symbols. Here are 10 of them.
10. Reebok The Pump
This sneaker was high-tech in its day, which was the fall of 1989. The Pump had an internal inflation mechanism, that operated a fitting cushion to make a tighter fit around the ankle. It was one of the biggest selling sneakers of the late 80s and early 90s.
9. PUMA Suede
Designed in the 1960s, the PUMA Suede was worn with high visibility during the 1968 Olympics. It had a resurgence in the 70s and 80s, seen on the feet of many hip hop artists and b-boys. This popular sneaker is still being worn by today’s cultural icons, including Jay Z.
8. New Balance 990
You won’t see recording stars wearing the New Balance 990, which may have coined the term “dad shoe.” The original, bulky style was big with the “nerd” crowd, but it has evolved into a sleeker, more fashion-friendly sneaker.
7. Reebok Freestyle
When aerobics classes became mainstream in the 1980s, participants started with Spandex and leg warmers, but were in their bare feet. A Reebok sales rep noticed this, and saw a gap in the market. Regular sneakers were not designed for the sideways movement of aerobics classes. Enter the Reebok Freestyle, made of softer leather, and available in pastel colors. It also had three ankle supports, and Velcro straps for added comfort.
6. Adidas Stan Smith
This well-liked sneaker is named after American tennis star Stan Smith, but was originally created for Robert Haillet, a French tennis star. Haillet wore it for many years, and Smith started wearing it as well. In 1978, the shoe was updated with a green color on the heel, plus Smith’s face and name on its tongue. Tennis players and many others are dedicated fans of the Stan Smith.
5. Air Jordan 1
Today’s sneaker culture is rooted in the Air Jordan 1, released in 1985. Its original colors were red and black, but the NBA league office banned it from being worn by players during basketball games. This made it even more desirable. It continued on to sell about three million pairs that year, bringing in approximately $195 million.
4. Adidas Superstar
The Superstar was worn by top NBA players when it debuted in 1969, but was not a big seller with the public until the 1980s. This was when hip-hop artists like Run DMC started wearing them. Word spread, and sneaker fans began buying up the sneaks with the three black stripes and rubber-shelled toe. This is Adidas’ most iconic sneaker, and those stripes are seen of many of their products.
3. Converse Chuck Taylor All Star
It is the granddaddy of them all: The Chuck Taylor All Star dates back to 1917, and its design is timeless. Taylor was not a sports figure; he was a Converse salesman who was very good at what he did. The company put his name on the sneakers in 1932, and they are one of the world’s favorite shoes. They have a simple, canvas design, and come in high-tops and low-tops in a variety of colors. In 2014, the company announced that they had sold more than one billion pairs!
2. Nike Air Force 1
Released in 1982, Nike’s Air Force 1 still draws in sneaker fans who appreciate its cutting-edge designs and colors. The brand got a huge boost in 2002, when Nelly’s song about the sneaker attracted even more buyers. It is a solid part of the NBA’s basketball culture, and Nike sells about 10 million pairs of them every year.
1. Nike Air Jordan 11
Hailed as one of the best basketball sneaker designs ever, Air Jordan 11 is here to stay. It was released in 1995, and famously worn by their namesake, Michael Jordan. The 2019 Air Jordan 11 “Bred” was the company’s best-selling sneaker ever.