11 October 2019

Sole searching - the secret history of the tennis shoe!

It's autumn, which can mean slippery courts. Now's the time to replace your tennis shoes after the wear and tear of the summer - and we have just the offer from Mizuno. But before you slip into something more comfortable, we invite you to get to grips with some surprising secrets of the tennis shoe.

Above: Advertising pages from Colchester Rubber Company catalogue Circa 1890 
Through CC{{PD-US}}

All Local Tennis League account holders can save 25% off Mizuno products in their new shop! Please use the following code on checkout:


Senior service

Before there was tennis, there was the... tennis shoe, a rubber-soled and canvas-upper deck-shoe - or plimsoll - designed to make life safer for sailors in the British navy. Dating back to the early 19th century, these wannabe tennis shoes were also "sneakers" as the sailors who wore them walked about the deck so siliently. As tennis began to rival croquet as a pastime for the upper classes, the navy's deck shoe found itself a new life on dry land as the tennis shoe of choice. Compared to the leather shoes the first tennis players had been using, the runner-soled tennis shoe was revolutionary. 

Galvanising sport

With Charles Goodyear’s invention of heat-withstanding vulcanised rubber in the 1830s, an industry gradually grew up around shoes for sports and athletics. Tennis, having eclipsed croquet in terms of demand, led the way. In 1900, the Rubber Company in the United States introduced Keds, the first brand to become associated with tennis shoes. This arguably beat both basketball and Chuck Taylor's All Star range for the Converse Rubber Show Company, as well as University of Oregon athletics coach, Bill Bowerman and his Nike shoe company, to be the first to show the commercial potential of sports marketing and footwear.

Rebellious streak

While tennis may retain some of its genteel reputation, by the 1950s the tennis shoe was becoming associated with rebellious youth culture and worn by the likes of Marlon Brando and James Dean. In the States, high schools largely lost the battle to outlaw the tennis shoe from the dress code, and the tennis shoe became synonymous with student life. In a 1960 Disney comedy a student received an electric shock and became a human computer... the result, "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes".

Tennis shoes have been street cred ever since (when they have not also been high fashion).

In giant's footsteps

Adidas introduced the leather-upper for French player Robert Halliet but it was American Stan Smith who became associated with subsequent 1970s revolution in the tennis shoe. From this moment on, the combination of big name endorsement and constant innovation revolutionised the tennis shoe as performnce footwear. [Pic right Stan Smith's tennis shoe]

The final frontier

Space Wars fans argue the truth or otherwise that one of the spacecraft briefly glimpsed in a  battle scene in The Empire Strikes Back is actually a tennis shoe, but the sneaker has a far better claim to extraterrestrial adventures. In the 1970s, NASA came up with a technique called "blow rubber moulding" to create lightweight space helmets. A NASA engineer then pitched the idea to Nike of using the system to create a cushioned heel for their shoes - the Nike Air was born.

The high-tech revolution

Since the 1980s, the tennis shoe has traded some of its catwalk appeal for increasingly sophisticated bio-mechanic innovations. Where Nike led, Adidas, Asics and others have followed. Local Tennis Leagues shoe partner, Mizuno, has relatively recently re-entered the tennis shoe market and is now a popular choice for up and coming players as well as top pros like Ivo Karlovic and Marcos Baghdatis. The shoes incorporate the brand's famous Wave technology, combining stability and cushioning to creae a shoe with some of the light-weight properties of Mizuno's signature running shoes, while ensuring they are perfect for tennis. 

Get your shoes on and get playing in your local tennis league.