History of Rubber Company Sneakers, and Jack Purcells

Jack Purcell Tennis Shoes, Remnant of GoodrichJack Purcells are one sharp looking shoe, and they make us remember the era of the rubber company sneaker.

Jack Purcell was a Canadian badminton player; I always  supposed that the scalloped toes of the shoes somehow allowed him to lunge into the bird better. Fascinating to me was that there was a time when badminton was cool. Even as late as the 1970s, everyone tended to get badminton nets out at backyard parties.

Not quite sure what happened to the sport of badminton; I do recall taking a badminton class in Adair Gymnasium at William & Mary in the early 1980s, and it was rather a hoot.

In the last half century, obviously badminton did not have any cool figures like Jack Purcell who became famous enough to promote the sport and keep the sport fresh. In addition, the sport was probably ruined by the persistent cheapness of the sets sold at S&H Green Stamps and the like.

But back to rubber company sneakers, which were superseded in the more casual 1970s and 1980s, when Nike, Adidas, Puma and Reebok made tennis shoes stylish.

The B.F. Goodrich rubber shoes were some of the great tire/rubber company shoe brands. But they weren’t the only ones. In fact, in consumers’ minds, there was a vast difference between sneakers and tennis shoes and regular shoes. Regular shoes were about style only; sneakers were about style AND performance, which hooked in with tire company brand heritage.

A few of the tire/rubber brand shoes.

  • B. F. Goodrich not only made Jack Purcell tennis shoes, but they made SeaVees, a sort of rubber soled canvas Top-Sider, and PF Flyers.
  • Keds Country SquireUnited States Rubber, later UniRoyal, made Keds. Keds is now part of Stride Rite, and they are doing fascinating things with the brand, including this recent photo shoot with a very 1970s Ford Country Squire station wagon. Quite strange to have a station wagon that was in my childhood be seen as vintage, but time does that.
  • Firestone had a whole line of its brand of shoes; the performance of the rubber in the shoes matched consumers’ ideals of the performance of the rubber in tires. Even in the 1920s, it was a major force in sportswear.
  • Dunlop Footwear, a spin off of well known Dunlop performance tires, is still a major sportswear brand, especially in former countries of the British Empire, including Australia, where Evonne Goolagong and Margaret Court wore the shoes, true tennis shoes. The tire company Dunlop is part of Goodyear. The roots of the company are in Dublin, Ireland with John Boyd Dunlop’s Dunlop Pneumatic Tire Company, which was originally about bike tires. It has a true Victorian feel, as Dunlop was founded in 1889 at the height of Victoria’s power.



1 Comment

  1. Jack Purcell’s. White.
    Three pairs. One pair on the porch for gardening, one pair in the house for summer wear, one unworn pair in the closet for when the house pair gets worn out. The classic summertime shoe, worn with khakis and a white cotton button down, I feel like the Professor on Gilligan’s Island.
    Style icon.

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