By Sharon Oliver, Contributing Writer
MALDEN – Before Nike told everyone to “Just Do It” or anyone listened to Run-D.M.C.’s lyrics to “My Adidas,” Converse (now a subsidiary of Nike) had already been a forerunner in the sneaker game. Founded by Marquis Mills Converse in 1908 in Malden, the Converse Rubber Shoe Company made canvas shoes with rubber soles called “Non-Skids” which were designed for basketball players.
From basketball player to salesman
In 1921, American semi-professional basketball player Charles “Chuck” Taylor joined the company as a salesman. After sharing his ideas for improving the shoe’s flexibility, prevention of blisters and ankle support, the company restyled the shoe and added a circular patch with the distinctive All-Star logo along with Taylor’s name as a stamp of his endorsement. The newly designed, first celebrity-endorsed, athletic footwear became known as Chuck Taylor All Stars (also referred to as “Converse,” “Chuck Taylors,” “Chucks,” “All Stars” and “Cons”).
Taylor traveled the country promoting the Converse All Star basketball shoes in local sporting goods stores and conducted local basketball clinics. Additionally, he attended college tournaments to support the teams and care for the shoes by being on hand to make any necessary repairs such as stitching. Taylor also coached the Wright Field Air-Tecs basketball team during the 1944-45 season and served as a physical fitness instructor for the U.S. military before returning to his job as a traveling salesman for Converse.
Olympic, NBA and pop culture fame
Converse All Stars were the official shoe of the Olympics from 1936 to 1968 and sometime during the 1960s, Converse cornered 70 to 80 percent of the basketball shoe market. Most professional basketball players wore Chuck Taylors for nearly half a century. However, the shoe’s popularity saw a decrease in the 1970s as more competing brands, many with arch support, were placed on store shelves. Tree Rollins was believed to have been the last player to regularly wear canvas Converse All Stars in the NBA during the 1979–1980 season. However, Michael Ray Richardson and Mickey Johnson briefly wore leather All Stars with the New Jersey Nets after 1982.
Being the pop culture icon that it is, it was inevitable that high-top and low-top Chuck Taylors would enjoy a comeback, thanks to its affordability and array of designs and color choices. Inspired by famed artist Andy Warhol, Converse released a collection of Chuck Taylors in 2015. In collaboration with the Andy Warhol Foundation, Warhol’s artistic creations were transferred onto the classic sneakers and featured images such as newspaper clippings and his Campbell’s Soup portrait. Converse also released t-shirt designs to accompany the shoes. In 2017, Chuck Taylor low top sneakers were the second-best-selling sneakers in the U.S.
The choice of stars
For decades, artists and musicians like Sid Vicious, the Beach Boys and Hunter S. Thompson walked the earth with Chuck Taylors on their feet. Converse also released other special editions of Chuck Taylor All-Stars, including AC/DC, Dr. Seuss, DC Comics, Super Mario, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, The Ramones, The Clash, Grateful Dead and The Who. The shoe was the preferred choice among those affiliated with the 1990s grunge scene.
Although film star James Dean popularized the shoes for fellow outcasts and rebels, he was not the only actor to wear them in their movies. Elvis Presley in “Change of Habit” (1969), cast members in “Animal House” (1978), Michael J. Fox in “Back to the Future” (1985) and Mike Myers and Dana Carvey in “Wayne’s World” (1992) are just some.
The man who inspired it all, Charles “Chuck” Taylor, retired from the company in 1968 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1969. He died that same year of a heart attack, just one day shy of his 68th birthday.
The game of basketball is a far cry from the days of playing with a soccer ball and two peach baskets, but Converse’s popular Chuck Taylors are apparently here to stay.