2018.02.28 Old: Searching for Chuck Taylor

My old Chuck Taylors wore out long ago, but I was wearing them 20 years ago. I loved those shoes.


I don’t remember how the topic came up. I was getting the weekly basketball update from coach Larry Bruce and he must have mentioned something about shoes.

A lot of Morenci’s players have had trouble with their southeast Asia sweatshop Nikes ripping out. Maybe those Viet Nam workers are trying to get back at us for problems in the past. What better way than to sabotage the most popular shoe in America.

Larry thought maybe the team should have chosen Converse brand shoes, at which point I lifted up a foot and pointed to my All Star 2000s with the Chuck Taylor signature.

My shoes aren’t anything that would be worn onto a basketball court. In the 1960s, they would have been considered extremely high tech. In 1998, you wouldn’t find these odd ducks anywhere but in the basketball bleachers.

I figured Larry would be able to solve my on-going query—Who is Chuck Taylor?—but I was wrong. He didn’t know of any famous basketball star of the past by that name, so how did this guy get his name on millions of shoes?

I tried the encyclopedia before heading to the not-always-reliable search tool of the 1990s—the Internet. Nothing in the encyclopedia; plenty via the Internet.

• Chuck Taylor is a member of the Craig Breedlove Spirit of America race team. According to their website, Chuck “finally got that fatherhood thing he was working on done.”

• Chuck Taylor is a financial wizard and the author of the book that “all the schools are raving about.” At least they’re raving in Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky. Chuck can make the economic system sensible to students and save them from a life of misery.

Once again, no mention of shoes.

• Chuck Taylor is a DJ at a classic rock radio station in Texas.

• Chuck Taylor will help you create a killer business plan.

• Chuck Taylor can help you select a holster and fighting rifle.

• Chuck Taylor is a reporter for the Seattle Times.

• Chuck Taylor is an overweight EMT with the Copperas Cove, Texas, fire department.

Then came Charlie’s site outlining the history of sneakers. I found my answer.

Marquis M. Converse started the Converse Rubber Co., in 1908. The All Star shoe was invented in 1917. In 1921, Mr. Converse got a name to go with his shoe: Chuck Taylor of the Akron Firestones basketball team. His name went on the shoe in 1923.

Chuck had been a high school star in Columbus, Ind. He spent his life driving around the country giving clinics and selling his shoe. He died in 1969.

Black high top Chuck Taylors were the basketball shoe of choice back in the 1950s. Canvas body, four pegs at the top of the lacing holes, the All Star patch on the inside of the shoe to protect the ankle. You can probably still remember the rubbery smell of a new pair fresh out of the box.

Then came the revolution: white All Stars in the 1960s, and white low cut shoes. The world was changing. Later came Chucks in pink, purple, bright green and flannel. There was even a knee-high Chuck from 1985 to 1987.

Eventually, Converse had to join the Nike-type design and go high-tech. Big ugly things to match anything you see on the basketball court today. They signed up Julius “Dr. J” Erving to pedal their shoes. Now you can get fancy models with yellow “React” fluid in the heel, pushed by the colorful Dennis Rodman urging us to  “Stay True.”

Converse in entering its 90th year with 550,000,000 shoes sold and I have one pair of them. Mine are made of canvas, but they’re not like anything from the 1960s. I was hoping for something American made, but the box says the sweatshop was in China.

Take it from me: (although Converse isn’t paying me to say it) They’re sturdy enough for day hikes in the Grand Canyon, comfortable enough for daily wear at work, fashionable enough for a city council meeting—but you’ll probably never catch me on the basketball court.