99 Years of Keds

By Alyssa Shirley Morein, ATHM Volunteer and Writer at Final Word Consulting

It’s hard to believe that sneaker brand Keds will be celebrating its hundredth anniversary next year. Many of us, at some point in our lives, have worn this popular brand, created in 1916 by the U.S. Rubber Company in Naugatuck, Connecticut.

United States Rubber Co. Keds: sporting & outing shoes. Des Moines, Iowa: United States Rubber Co., 1918. Accn. #2009.93.1.

Shown here is a pamphlet from the company, titled “Keds’ Sporting and Outing Shoes.” Published two years after the birth of the brand, it pictures styles that may be surprising to viewers of today. With innovative canvas tops and rubber soles, the company brought a new level of comfort and practicality to the popular shoe styles of the era, and as this pamphlet shows, sold a variety of styles to suit different genders, occasions, and budgets.

And sell Keds did. The boosterish language of this pamphlet, which was intended for distribution to retailers, conveys the company’s well-founded optimism about its new line: “First from the start and first ever since! That is the story of Keds, the most popular hot-weather shoe in the world…. The success of Keds is truly sensational. Demand has each year outstripped supply, despite increased manufacturing facilities. We are therefore making preparations for 1918-19 on the largest possible scale… the 1918-19 Keds season promises to smash all records.”

It’s interesting to note the reasons for this particular stage in footwear evolution. A number of elements came into play to create demand for Keds and other “plimsoll” styles of shoe, which with their breathable, lightweight canvas material and flexible soles were first adopted as beach or hot-weather shoes. At the start of the 20th century, Americans were enjoying increased leisure time, thanks to multiple factors. For instance, home appliance innovations such as washing machines freed people from time-consuming domestic chores, and new labor laws curtailed working hours for both adults and children.

It followed, therefore, that more time for recreational activity meant more demand for leisure wear. A match of badminton, or a family picnic outing at the beach or park—such things called for lightweight, breathable footwear with non-slip soles. In fact, in addition to Keds coming out of Connecticut, the Massachusetts brand Converse first offered its now iconic All Star shoe in 1917.

ATHM’s collections are brimming with illuminating artifacts like this one. Come in and learn with us today!

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