Charles Goodyear aimed to create an affordable, wearable rubber shoe. By mixing rubber and sulfur at high temperatures, he found that rubber could withstand extreme heat or cold without melting or cracking. In 1839, he patented the process, which was later dubbed “vulcanization” after the Roman god of fire. Though Goodyear wanted to create a shoe that was accessible to everyone, sneakers gained popularity because they were emblems of privilege. With the onset of Industrialization, leisure time became a signifier of social status, and leisure activities like tennis, croquet, and trips to the seaside required their own type of footwear. It is with this mindset that the sneaker was born.
Goodyear Rubber Manufacturing Company / Low-top, ca. 1890s / Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum / Photo: Ron Wood