By Joe Carrel, Buffalo Exchange Tempe
You ever look up something out of mild curiosity and later realize you’ve spent way longer than expected down a rabbit hole of information? That happened to me after spying my Converse All Stars flopped on the floor and wondering “Who the heck is Chuck Taylor and why is his name on my shoes?”
What I found surprised me…
I logically assumed that Chuck Taylor was some long forgotten all-star of the hardcourt, from back in the days when basketballs had laces and free throws were shot underhanded. Nope. He was just a high school kid from Indiana who knew what he wanted and turned out to be exactly what Converse needed.
After graduation, Charles Hollis “Chuck” Taylor drove to Chicago with hopes of landing a job with Converse. He had been wearing their first athletic shoe, the “All Star” since its debut four years earlier, in 1917. Although it had originally been intended as a soccer shoe, Chuck had used it for the still-fledgling sport of basketball. He convinced the company to take a chance on him and it paid quick dividends.
Taylor immediately began making improvements to the shoe, providing it with better support and flexibility. Even the star logo itself was an improvement; it was originally a thick patch that was added to protect the ankle. Chuck was part of a company-sponsored basketball team that held clinics in high schools all over the country. He became so plugged into the national basketball scene that college athletic directors would constantly ask him for advice when looking for a coach. He even invented the first basketball without those old-timey laces.
By 1936 basketball was making its Olympic debut, and wouldn’t you know it, the entire United States team was decked out in Converse All Stars. During WWII, Taylor became a fitness consultant for the U.S. military and All Stars became a staple of their training attire. By the mid-sixties, Converse held an astounding 80% share of the U.S. sneaker market, with nine out of ten professional and college basketball players wearing All Stars. Little did they know that due to new “high-tech” athletic shoe companies on the horizon, their success in the sportswear arena would disappear less than a decade later.
Fortunately the company had made a couple savvy moves that ensured itself a bright future. In 1957 Converse began producing a low-cut version of the All Star. This caught on with those looking for a comfortable shoe to pair with casual wear (and became a particular favorite of celebrities like actor Steve McQueen and writer Hunter S. Thompson). In 1971 the company expanded beyond their black and white look and unveiled colored versions of the shoe. This encouraged wearers to express themselves and shifted the focus further towards simple everyday fashion rather than strictly athletic gear.
By the late seventies the shoes had begun gaining acceptance as subculture attire, thanks in no small part to the Ramones (interesting tidbit: if you look on the cover of their iconic first album, the fellas are all wearing Pro-Keds, it wasn’t until later that they became known for donning the All Stars). By the time the eighties rolled around, Chucks were completely gone from the NBA, but had successfully taken up residence in the non-sports crowd.
So back to our old pal Chuck Taylor. For a good portion of his 46-year tenure with Converse, his only “home” was a locker in the company warehouse. His life was on the road, spreading the gospel of canvas and rubber, driving through the country in a white Caddy with a trunk full of sneakers that bore his name.
800 million pairs of Chucks have been sold worldwide, with new ones bought every 43 seconds. Some estimate that 60% of Americans have owned a pair in their lifetime. Chuck Taylor’s job title may have simply been “salesman,” but a legacy like that definitely rates as ALL STAR.