February 10, 2007

Converse

And the man behind the brand is...
Marquis Converse

It is a sad irony that the man whose name graces one of America’s greatest athletic shoes was, for much of his life, sickly. Marquis Converse was born in Lyme, New Hampshire in 1861. Infirmities stalled his early business career but he worked his way into a superintendent’s position in Boston’s Houghton & Dutton department store by his early twenties. The job was short-lived, however,
as sickness forced him to resign.

In 1887 Converse co-founded a rubber shoe agency but once again illnesses left him to weak to participate in the venture. This time he spent three years recovering. When Converse resumed his business activities it was as a salesman. In 1908, at nearly 50 years of age, Converse started his own firm again.

By 1910 the Converse Rubber Shoe Company in Malden, Massachusetts was producing 5500 rubber shoes a day. In 1917 Converse introduced the high-topped canvas All Star, America’s first basketball shoes. Charles “Chuck” Taylor was hired as one of sport’s earliest player endorsers. In the days before professional basketball Taylor starred for barnstorming teams across the country, playing and pushing his Converse shoes.

From his experiences on the court Taylor designed sturdier soles and increased ankle support and traction. In 1923 Taylor’s signature was sewn to an ankle patch. The highly recognizable shoe was adopted by the United States Olympic team in 1930. One year before he died in 1969 Chuck Taylor, a pioneer in sports marketing, was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Despite the success of the All Star business was as much a daily struggle for Marquis Converse as was his health. By 1929 his firm had slipped into receivership. Two years later he dropped dead on the streets of Boston from a fatal heart attack. He had improbably lived into his seventieth year but did not live to see the athletic shoe become a part of everyday fashion.

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