Millions of people around the world wear Chuck Taylor’s name on their ankles every day. His signature has appeared on the high-top, canvas All-Star sneakers since 1932, but who exactly is Chuck Taylor?
The basketball sneakers were named after Charles Hollis “Chuck” Taylor, an American basketball player who was born in Indiana on this date in 1901. Straight out of high school, he played for a number of professional teams, including the Akron Firestones in Ohio.
Before finally moving to Chicago in 1922 to work as a sales representative for the Converse Rubber Shoe Co. (The company’s name was eventually shortened to Converse, Inc.). Taylor, then the company’s sales manager, decided to market himself as a great basketball player and add his name to the shoe.
“He neither was a great player nor did he play on some of the great teams that he said he played on,” says Abraham Aamidor. But he did have moderate abilities with basketball and the connections in the field to make an impact. Though many—if not all—basketball coaches knew “it was a bunch of hooey,” he says, they accepted the act and moved on.
Taylor listened carefully to customer feedback and passed on suggestions for shoe improvements—including more padding under the ball of the foot, a different rubber compound in the sole to avoid scuffs, and a patch to protect the ankle—to his regional office. He also relied on his basketball skills to impress prospective clients, hosting free Chuck Taylor basketball clinics around the country to teach high school and college players his signature moves on the court.
Taylor played for and managed the All-Stars, a traveling team sponsored by Converse to promote their new All-Star shoes, and launched and helped publish the Converse Basketball Yearbook, which covered the game of basketball on an annual basis.
“He loved the game [of basketball]. He loved being a part of it. He put on clinics all over the country, helping kids learn how to play a little bit better,” said Dean, who later served as the athletic director at Louisiana State University and is in the College Basketball Hall of Fame.
Converse’s ultimate goal was to make shoes with the grippiest soles around. The tread pattern became fixed in the mid-1930s, and the patented design is still used in today’s Chucks.
The Converse All Star sneaker first came out in 1917 and did not initially bear Taylor’s name. That came about years later. A basketball player turned salesman may sound unthinkable for today’s hoop stars, but this was years before the NBA was founded in 1949 and well before basketball stars were being paid millions of dollars to play the sport.
In 1936, the United States men’s basketball team stepped onto the rain-soaked outdoor courts sporting bright white Converse shoes—patriotic blue and red pinstripes wrapping around each sole. The Americans were taking on the Canadians in the Olympic finals, and the conditions were miserable. This was basketball’s inaugural year in the games and the first of seven consecutive Olympic gold medals for the U.S. men’s team. But it also marked the first appearance of the iconic “Olympic white” Chuck Taylor shoes—a design still around to this day.
Paralleling the company’s popularity declined in the professional sports world was a growing following in rock culture. The introduction of seven colors of the shoe in 1971 bolstered this movement, and shoe sales pivoted from the courts to the streets. “Really it’s the only clothing that you’ll ever see old men, young girls, hipsters in New York, [all wearing],” says Aamidor, of Converse’s now broad appeal. “Anybody is likely to be wearing those shoes.”
In 1969, Taylor was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The same year, he died from a heart attack on June 23, at the age of 67. Around this time, athletic shoes manufactured by companies like Adidas and Nike began replacing Converse on the court.
It’s impossible to know what Taylor would think of the phenomenon his Chucks have become, but any salesman would like to be on a first-name basis with the world. His love of basketball and Converse shoes helped build the sport into a classic American game.