Chuck Taylors Sneakers | Up Close

More than a century on, Massachusetts-born Chuck Taylors still have plenty of spring in their step.

By Joe Bills

Feb 18 2020

Photo Credit : Courtesy of Converse
Before there were Jordans and LeBrons, there were Chucks. As the most famous footwear to come out of Malden, Massachusetts, Chuck Taylor All Stars were the unrivaled king of athletic sneakers for half a century. The first U.S. Olympic basketball team played in special white Chucks with red and blue trim at the 1936 Games. Wilt Chamberlain was wearing his size 15½ Chucks when he scored 100 points during a game in 1962, but that was no surprise: Throughout the 1960s, pretty much every player in the NBA sported them. Today a hipster fashion staple, Chucks have been worn by everyone from Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa to supermodel Gisele Bündchen. With their rubber sole and cotton canvas upper, they are inexpensive, practical, sturdy. But most of all, they are cool.
Chuck Taylors Sneakers | Up Close
The “Chuck Taylor” moniker came along in the 1920s, after semipro basketball player Charles “Chuck” Taylor was hired on as a salesman.
Photo Credit : Courtesy of Converse

Their story begins in Malden in 1908, when a 47-year-old New Hampshire native named Marquis Mills Converse quit his job managing a shoe factory and launched his own business, the Converse Rubber Shoe Company. Its first athletic shoes, dubbed “Non-Skids,” debuted in 1915. The Converse All Star premiered two years later.

The “Chuck Taylor” moniker came along in the 1920s, after semipro basketball player Charles “Chuck” Taylor was hired on as a salesman. (As the legend goes, Taylor was offered the job after walking into a Converse sales office in Chicago to complain that the sneakers made his feet hurt.) Though the Indiana-born Taylor had had an undistinguished basketball career, marked by stints with the Columbus Commercials and the Dayton Non-Skids, he was a great promoter. He traveled the country, hosting basketball clinics and touting Converse shoes everywhere he went, and soon became such a well-known brand ambassador that his signature was added to the All Star ankle patch.

Taylor’s death in 1969 came on the eve of the decades-long “sneaker wars,” which saw companies like Adidas, Puma, and Nike battling for athletic-shoe dominance. As Converse’s hold on the sports market slipped, it relaunched Chucks as a casual brand, rolling out new colors and materials that made the shoe more a means of personal expression.

Despite that savvy pivot, Converse had to file for bankruptcy in 2001 and was purchased by Nike two years later. Yet the rebound that followed would make even Bill Russell proud: By 2015, the year the company moved into new headquarters in Boston (and released the Chuck Taylor II), Converse was once again a $2 billion brand.