The Story Behind the World’s First Basketball Sneakers — and Now You Can Get the Style

Ever wondered where basketball sneakers come from? The Colchester Rubber Co. brand has an extraordinary heritage story.

Founded in the 1890s, the newly relaunched footwear company is believed to have produced one of the first basketball sneaker prototypes.

original basketball sneakers colchester
Colchester sneakers pay tribute to the first basketball sneakers.
CREDIT: Courtesy of U.S. Rubber.
colchester basketball, original sneakers
A Colchester basketball sneaker from the 1890s.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Colchester

According to the company’s Kickstarter site, a pair of its original sneakers were discovered at an estate sale in Vista, Calif.

The shoes, which Colchester dubbed the National Treasure, have an emblem from the 1890s, the factory location and rubber soles with specks of various particles. As rubber purification technology didn’t come about until the early 1900s, the sneakers are likely among the first of their kind.

harry lew black history month sneakers
Players from the Pawtucketville Athletic Club in the New England Professional Basketball League.
CREDIT: Courtesy of U.S. Rubber.
CREDIT: Courtesy

Basketball likely inspired the creation of the shoes, as they were made around the same time the sport was invented, and nearby. The replica sneakers incorporate the color and style elements of the first design, which was produced in 1892 — one year after Dr. James Naismith invented basketball in Springfield, Mass. The company headquarters in Colchester, Conn., were just 50 miles away.

Gary Pifer acquired the Colchester brand in 2005. The heritage story was revived at the time through reproductions of the first basketball sneaker, which U.S. Rubber originated under Colchester, he said, adding that the company manufactured sneakers for multiple private labels before shuttering. “They were the Prada of rubber footwear,” he said in a previous interview. “The most expensive and highest prices to customers of the gilded age.”

colchester, first basketball sneaker
Colchester Rubber Co. advertisement.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Colchester

New features on the canvas fashion sneakers, which nod to the original, include safety bumps for traction, a toe guard and padding in the inner sole to enhance comfort. These kicks aren’t meant for power performance on the court but are a slick fashion throwback.

“We use modern foxing and a thinner slab,” Pifer added. “They had no EPA rules, and they couldn’t make rubber pure back then.”

colchester, first basketball sneaker
Colchester Rubber Co. advertisement.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Colchester

History aside, what makes the sneaks extra special is that you can be one of the first to have them in your closet through the Kickstarter campaign. There are several styles available, including low- and high-tops, along with several colors such as deadgrass, which is the sneakers’ original tan shade, navy and black. If you want to support the project, you can pledge as little as $10 or contribute $60 to get your own National Treasure sneakers.

You have only 22 days to back the idea, so get a closer look at the designs below and grab a pair before time runs out.

CREDIT: Courtesy of brand
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