Materials and Construction

Although athletes have been wearing performance-related footwear for thousands of years, the "sneaker" is only a recent creation based upon serendipity and adaptations of several industrial revolution inventions.

The most recognized feature of a sneaker is its vulcanized rubber outsole. Natural or India rubber, a byproduct of trees, has been cultivated since 1600 B.C.E. (by the Mayans). However, natural rubber "as is," is not really appropriate for shoes. In hot and sticky weather it melts; in cold weather it becomes brittle and hard. In 1839, Charles Goodyear from the United States serendipitously created the modern form of rubber used for sneakers when he was trying to come up with a waterproof mailbag material for the U.S. government. Goodyear's recipe, later named "vulcanization" was discovered when he accidentally dropped a mixture of rubber, lead, and sulfur onto a hot stove. His accident resulted in a substance that was not affected by the weather, and would snap back to its original shape when stretched (Goodyear 2003). The same type of rubber was reinvented and patented in England (1843), by a rubber pioneer named Thomas Hancock, who analyzed and copied samples from Goodyear. A friend of Hancock's coined the term "vulcanization" after Vulcan, the Roman god of fire (Goodyear 2003).

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