Sneakers go by a lot of different names. Some people still call them tennis shoes, even if they haven't been on a court in decades. Those people's children probably call them kicks, while referring to a sneaker by its brand can range from the generic (Keds) to the hipster-specific (think of those who loudly laud their Chucks or Cons). About the only thing people who really like their sneakers agree on is that phrases like athletic shoe or, even worse, athletic footwear suck the fun out of the molded rubber that makes us run faster and jump higher, which was the 1950s-promise of a Converse competitor called PF Flyers.

Rubber is the key to a good pair of sneakers, although the precise composition of that rubber has obviously changed since the 19th century, when Charles Goodyear reportedly spilled some sulfur and rubber on a hot surface and discovered the vulcanization that would let shoe manufacturers mold rubber to the canvas and other types of rugged cloth that formed the "uppers" of sneakers made by Converse, PF Flyers, and Keds. Depending on the sport being played, leather was also used by companies such as Puma, Adidas, Wilson, and Saucony. Later, in the 1970s, synthetic materials were tossed into the sneaker mix by companies such as Etonic, Reebok, New Balance, Tiger, Bata, and Nike.


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