By Michael LeCompte
It is estimated that 60 percent of Americans either currently wear or at some point in their lives owned a pair of Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars or “Chucks.” The All-Star is the best-selling basketball shoe of all-time (far surpassing the Nike Air Jordan even). Just who was Chuck Taylor, though, and how did his name come to be on every pair of the now iconic sneakers.
Chuck Taylor did not in fact invent the All-Star. Converse had been making athletic shoes since the early 1900’s and Taylor himself wore them as a high-school basketball player in Ohio in 1917.
The Converse company sponsored a basketball team called the All-Stars that travelled the country putting on basketball clinics and selling their shoes.
In 1921 Taylor got a job with Converse and started publication of the Converse Basketball Yearbook in 1922. The yearbook highlighted the best players and teams in the country, while promoting the All-Stars’ team.
By the mid 1920’s Taylor was traveling with the All-Stars, selling shoes to teams around the country. He also changed the design of the original All-Star shoe so that it provided more support and flexibility, adding the now-familiar circular white patch on the ankle.
In 1932, due to the changes he implemented, the shoes officially became the Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star, with his name in the white patch on every pair.
Taylor was instrumental in getting basketball recognized as an Olympic sport for the first time before the 1936 games. For the Olympics Converse produced the All-Star in a color other than black for the first time when they outfitted the U.S. team in white shoes.
During World War II Taylor was a fitness consultant for the Army and Chuck Taylor All-Stars became the official sneaker of the Armed Forces.
By 1966 Converse controlled 80 percent of the American athletic shoe market. Throughout his career Taylor received a salary from Converse, but no commission on the millions of pairs of shoes he sold. (A fact he reportedly made up for with his liberal, even extravagant use of the company expense account). He was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1968 and died a year later.
In 2003 Converse filed for bankruptcy and was bought by Nike. Today All-Stars continue to be produced by Nike through its Converse division. The shoes are now available in every color of the rainbow and can even be personalized online.
The original Chuck Taylor All-Star, with its simple style and canvas construction has endured, once dominating all levels of athletics, and which has since been embraced and re-discovered by generations of the main stream and counter-culture.
Over 700,000 pairs of Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars are sold each year and 800 million pairs have been sold all-time.