Every day, we put on a piece of footwear and get about our house, doing our thing. However, little do we think of why we even wear shoes in the first place and who is the person who created them. Speaking of which, who invented the first show? And when was it invented?
The earliest proven examples of footwear could be traced back to 7,000 to 8,00 BC. Sagebrush bark sandals were found in the Fort Rock Cave in Oregon, US. The Romans were the first to design left and right-foot shoes. Many civilizations also developed their own footwear independently.
When Was The First Shoe Made?
Shoes were invented in prehistoric times, which is the period before writing was developed. This means there is no way we could pinpoint the invention of shoes to a single person.
However, archeological discoveries could trace shoes back as early as 7,000 to 8,000 BC, over 10,000 years ago. Archeologists discovered some sagebrush bark sandals were found in the Fort Rock Cave in Oregon, US.
This means you may actually claim that ancient Native Americans were the first to have invented shoes.
Shoes were also a technology that seemed to have developed independently across civilizations before they even met each other. The oldest shoes found in ancient Egyptian civilization date back to 4000 BC. However, the footwear resembled more of a flip-flop, possibly due to the heat. Shoes are meant to protect from the hot ground.
Far away in ancient China, shoes were proven to have existed as early as 1000 BC. However, instead of leather, the shoes were made from layers of hemp in a process similar to quilting. Stitchings were also added to improve its strength.
The world’s oldest leather shoes were found in Armenia in 2008. The shoe was dated back to around 3500 BC. It is made from a single piece of cowhide, with a leather cord lace along the front and back.
The ancient Greeks were known for their disdain for shoes, seeing them as unnecessary. In fact, Greek soldiers fought barefoot, from the ancient hoplites down to the world-conquering army of Alexander the Great. Greeks only started wearing shoes at the start of the first millennium.
However, the Romans did not. They probably see the value of shoes for protection and to help their soldiers to perform better. The Romans were serious enough about their shoes they actually took the time to create Chirals, shoes specially designed for the left and right foot.
How Has Shoe Evolved Over Time?
Since its invention, shoes have evolved in leaps and bounds over the years. These include construction, materials, functionality, style, protection, and fitment. These technologies are expected to continue to improve.
Over time, shoe technology has improved by leaps and bounds in many areas. These include construction, materials used, functionality, protection, and ways to secure the shoes to the feet.
These areas are expected to continue to evolve, helping shoes keep up with technology and remain relevant to human lives.
The most basic shoes were ropes rolled around the feet or leather wrapped around them with laces to tie them. From there, shoes developed into footwear similar to flip-flops and gradually became tougher and more comfortable, with better fitment.
Early shoes are gender-neutral. However, as shoe designs and demands emerged, shoe styles eventually became separated between genders.
Females look for shoes that will make them stand in great posture and walk in a certain gait, while men may look for shoes they can wear to perform their daily jobs safely. Demands like these eventually led to the creation of stilettos and lumberjack boots, for example.
As material technology advances, more materials become available to make shoes. Earlier shoes tended to be made of leather or natural fibers such as cotton or linen. However, as humans discovered plastics and polymers, they made them into shoes.
Their materials are lightweight and may be tougher than natural materials. They may include Polyurethane, Ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), or vulcanized rubber. These materials help the shoe to perform its job well without weighing the feet of the wearer.
More custom shoes are designed to fit into human activities as time goes on, especially when a new line of work, sport, or pastime comes about. For example, JW Foster invented spiked shoes for running athletes, and Bill Bowerman designed lightweight athletic shoes.
It is expected that new shoe designs may appear to fit into newer activities. These new shoes may also include additional functions and materials for better performance.
Shoes have also improved in their protection over the years. The earliest shoes were nothing but leather wrapped around the feet, with no cushioning or protection against sensitive parts of the feet, such as toes.
Shoes eventually become better, with many shoes focusing on protection becoming very tough. These shoes may feature thickened leather with steel toe caps to protect against falling objects. The heels may be extra thick and slick-resistant to avoid falling as well.
Shoes have also improved in fitment over the years, with many types of fitment materials and technology invented. As shoes improved in fitment, foams and insoles started being introduced to help shoes fit better. The same goes for measurement technology such as the Brannock device.
Older shoes tend to rely on laces to adjust the fitment, with some shoes relying on velcro. More modern shoes use air pumps to tighten or loosen the shoe. At the same time, Nike just debuted intelligent self-lacing shoe technology.
Who Are The Inventors That Improved Shoes?
Throughout history, many inventors and smart minds have contributed to the development of shoes as a technology. These giants of history either built machines to produce shoes, standardized foot measurements or invented new types of shoes that we love today.
Here are a few of them for you to check out:
Jan Matzelieger Shoe Lasting Machine
If you have wondered how shoes can be manufactured so fast these days, you have to thank Jan Matzelieger. Born in Dutch Suriname, Jan migrated to the US, settled in Philadelphia, and worked in a shoe factory in Lynn, the US capital of shoes at the time.
He noticed that the shoe-making process was time-consuming, especially during lasting. In this process, the shoe’s upper part is sewn together with the sole. It was normally done by hand and may take up to 15 minutes to complete a shoe.
Jan spent time and eventually developed the lasting machine. The machine places the shoe leather upper over the mole, arranges the leather under the sole, pinned it in place, and then stitches them together. This machine makes the lasting process as short as around a single minute only.
Charles Goodyear Jr. Goodyear Welting Machine
Charles Goodyear Jr is the namesake’s son, the founder, and the builder of Goodyear tires. However, the son’s contribution to the world is in shoes instead of tires. Charles can be credited to the invention of the Goodyear welting machine.
Welting is a process where the shoe upper is stitched to a rib-like material, usually leather. This material is usually laid on the edges of the shoe. The rib is then attached to the cork or foam before stitching to the shoe’s sole.
This process has been commonly done by hand since the 1500s until Charles, and his two engineers, Augustine Destouy and Daniel Mills, created and marketed the Goodyear welting machine.
Edward II Standardized Shoe Sizes
Edward II’s contribution to the shoe world may be rather indirect but crucial.
He was on a quest to standardize shoe sizes and looked at the common measurement method available during the day. Instead of coming out of a ruler, he based the measurements on barleycorn, a type of grain.
- 3 barleycorns measures an inch
- 12 inches measure a foot
- 3 feet equals a yard
- 5.5 years a perch
- 4 perches squared is an acre
How does this relate to shoe sizes? Apparently, shoemakers learned to use the length of a barleycorn (⅓ inch) for every size increment and half a barleycorn (⅙ inch) for half size.
Bill Bowerman Waffle Shoe Design (Co-Founder Nike)
Bill Bowerman was a track and field coach. He was also the co-founder of Nike Inc. Aside from being credited with co-founding one of the world’s largest sports apparel companies, Bill Bowerman is also credited for designing the waffle shoe.
Bill was an athletics coach at the University of Oregon and is obsessed with finding ways to make his athletes run faster with better shoes. While at home, he observed his wife’s waffle maker, which gave him the idea to create a shoe sole in that design.
The rationale is that the shoe will have a good grip but be much lighter in weight since it is not a solid sole. He eventually took the waffle maker, filled it with polyurethane, and ruined it. He has to purchase another one and try again to get the sole right.
The concept eventually became the moon shoe and led to the creation of Blue Ribbon Sports, which later became Nike in 1971 with Phil Knight.
Joseph Foster Designer of First Spiked Shoe
Joseph Foster was a shoe cobbler in Bolton, England, in the 1900s. Credited with many gold Olympic medals, Joseph designed the world’s first spiked shoes, used until today in sprint events such as the 100M run.
He originally designed the spiked shoes and called them running pumps due to the shoe’s shape at the time.
The concept started becoming popular with athletes. It reached national attention when British athlete Harold Abrams won a gold medal in the 1924 summer Olympics wearing his spiked pumps. Joseph Foster’s company J.W. Foster and Sons, eventually became part of Reebok in 1976.
Tinker Hadfield Air Jordan Shoe Design
Tinker Hadfield, American designer of various Nike shoes and is known to be the main man behind all the Air Jordan sneakers. It was also said that Tinker Hadfield saved Nike, as his shoe designs were able to keep Michael Jordan from leaving to join Adidas.
However, rather than talking about his designs, we will look at specific shoe technology that took him and his team over 20 years to perfect – the self-lacing shoes.
The self-lacing shoes are just as said. You first slip your feet into the shoes, and then as you walk, the shoe will be able to notice the pressure you are putting on the sole and will gently tighten.
This is done by adding sensors, motors, and cables on the shoes to detect and adjust the tightness of the shoe laces.
The technology is called the HyperAdapt, and the end goal is to eventually make it able to adjust the lace’s tightness as you engage in activities. Looser when you are casually walking and tighter when you can run or jump around, for example.
Charles Brannock – The Brannock Device
Charles Brannock was a shoe store owner in Syracuse, New York, in the 1920s. One of the biggest issues he faced at the time was the difficulty in accurately measuring the foot size of his customers.
The industrial standard at the time was the Ritz Stick, which he found inadequate. He went on to improve the design and patented his own foot measurement device in 1925. This tool is aptly named Brannock Device.
The Brannock Device can measure a human foot’s length, width, and arch length. As such, he was able to sell more shoes. However, the other major contribution of using a Brannock device is it could help customers from having issues such as pain from wearing ill-fitting shoes.
The Brannock device soon became popular and eventually became the industry standard. In fact, the Brannock device is still used as a tool to measure human feet in shoe stores today.