How Your Running Shoes Have Evolved

As sales continue to soar, the global athletic footwear market is worth more than $64 billion. With people being more health and fitness conscious than ever before, combined with the rise of athleisure, the athletic footwear industry is positively booming. While athletic footwear has become a modern fashion style, the practical running shoe is thought to be around 200 years old. During this time the running shoe that we know today has evolved from a simple, humble shoe to become the high-tech footwear we all wear today. But in whichever form the running shoe may have taken, it always followed the same aim of protecting the foot during running, provide enough traction to grip on all surfaces and to give support through the stride.

Producing the First Running Shoe

The rubber soles on your running shoes were only introduced in 1832. This was created from a process of fusing leather and rubber together which helped to create a more comfortable running shoe. But it wasn’t until the 1850s that the running shoes that we know today began to emerge. Joseph William Foster, who later founded the company you know as Reebok, first came up with the concept of taking a leather and rubber shoe and attaching spikes to them. This upgrade saw the creation of the running shoes we know today.

Creating Sneakers with Vulcanization

It was much later in the 19th century that vulcanization, a chemical process used to harden rubber and invented by Charles Goodyear, was used to create a more durable shoe. Combining canvas and rubber created a much quieter shoe compared to other types of footwear and gave birth to the now popular word, ‘sneakers’. The revival of the Olympics in 1896 saw an increasing demand for solid running footwear which has continued to grow.

First ‘Modern’ Running Shoe Launched in 1960s

As running had become a serious sport, both competitively and as a leisure activity, more research and investment went into improving the footwear. While today we see the big brand names dominating the athletic footwear industry, it wasn’t until the 1960s that the first modern running shoe was born. This moved away from the previously stiff designs and running spikes and used technology to create better support for the feet and unique tread design.

The Use of Fabrics in Running Shoes

Early running shoes used leather which can quickly lose its shape and can wear out very quickly. As time went on more advanced fabrics and materials were considered.  While entirely rubber shoes weren’t popular, the vulcanized rubber soles were, along with the use of canvas material. Today, however, the canvas isn’t widely used for running shoes and leather has become a thing of the past too. These have been replaced with much more modern materials like polyurethane ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) which make up most the modern sneakers we wear now. Today’s most advanced shoes use Flyknit technology which uses highly durable threads to provide an even lighter and more breathable shoe.

Our running shoes have undergone dramatic changes over the last couple of centuries. Science and technology are now the driving force behind all our athletic footwear giving us much more support and comfort and even improving the way we run. And with this technology continually improving, what will the next generation of running shoes look and feel like?


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