Founded in 1898 on the banks of Saucony Creek in Kutztown, Pa., legacy footwear brand Saucony continues to stay in stride after over a century of existence.
Decades after its start, Saucony saw a move to Cambridge, Mass., in the late 1960s after being acquired by Hyde Athletic Industries. Having already gained fame for producing footwear for PF Flyers and SpotBilt, Hyde Athletic Industries took Saucony to a new level in the late 1970s when the Saucony Hornet sneaker was chosen as the best value buy by renowned Runner’s World magazine.
This upward wave would continue into the 1980s as Saucony sold so well that Hyde Athletic Industries formally changed its name to Saucony.
Pronounced “sock a knee” as seen on early packaging, the 1980s were a high time for the footwear line’s continued success. That decade alone produced iconic running models ranging from 1981’s Jazz to 1985’s Shadow to 1988’s Azura. Each model showcased the brand’s logo across the midfoot, made to mimic the flowing Saucony Creek and the three boulders that defined it as denoted by three dots.
A major moment for Saucony in their pivotal decade of the 1980s was its partnership with marathon runner Rod Dixon. Hailing from New Zealand, Dixon came to worldwide fame in 1983 by winning the New York City Marathon. By working with Saucony’s Engineering Team and riffing off the 1981 Saucony Jazz as a starting point, the accomplished marathon runner and booming brand created a new performance model: the DXN. Making the most of breathable mesh, a lower cut heel and added cushioning, the DXN further validated Saucony as a manufacturer of world-class running footwear.
To this day, the Saucony Jazz reigns as the brand’s most memorable design in retro life, followed closely by the Shadow, which debuted as a performance trainer. At the time of its release, the Saucony Azura was revered as a running shoe known for its lightweight construction and micro-suede upper. In the late 1980s when other brands were going big on visible technology, Saucony kept it consistent through linear evolution.
In the 1990s, Saucony took a two-pronged approach to further extend its footing in the running industry. First, they revived 1985’s Saucony Shadow by way of 1991’s Saucony Shadow 6000. This updated take on the time-tested favorite saw Saucony lean into everything distance runners loved on the original, making it incrementally evolved for modern times. This meant a steeper stance and more EVA cushioning.
Conversely, Saucony looked to enter the 1990s through newness with 1991’s Grid SD. Standing for Ground Reaction Inertia Device, the GRID system implemented a cassette of cushioning in the rear midfoot to minimize impact across the foot and on the joints. Though considered less sexy than Nike’s visible Air Max cushioning that made waves in the same era, Saucony’s GRID system featured similar properties in regard to placement and intentions.
Over the course of the early 1990s, Saucony continued to expand the GRID system’s footprints by way of 1993’s Saucony GRID 8000 and 1994’s Saucony GRID 9000. Both models moved forward aesthetically through more timely design, backed by breathable mesh and enhanced GRID capabilities for a fluid look and more cushioned ride. In 1998, the Saucony 3D GRID Hurricane the push towards modern progress while 1995’s Jazz 5000 relied on the other approach to riff off of retro. Another highlight from that decade proved 1994’s Aya Runner, a lightweight model molded for trail running released at a point where the category was seeing traction amongst its peers.
For better or worse, the 1990s read back as a time when Saucony evolved its running range but still appealed mostly to purists who fell in love with the brand in the decade prior. Yes, Saucony’s new Ground Reaction Inertia Device brought in a new franchise for the brand and one that was more of the technology-driven times. However, the under-the-hood innovation of the GRID system paled in visual comparison to where Nike was taking Air Max cushioning, or even what Reebok had found in DMX. Across all categories but even in distance running, technology the eye could touch and see had won over the masses. By 1999, Asics removed the veil on its infamous Gel cushioning by exposing it on the heel of the Asics Gel-Kayano 5. For Saucony to survive in the 2000s, the brand had to better implore its 1990s strategy of showcasing heritage, while also adapting to the modern advances of visible technology on performance pairs.
Heading into the new millennium, Saucony showed steps in the right direction with the release of the aptly named Saucony Grid 2000 and Saucony Grid Web. While neither model wowed on the wall by way of a technical midsole or exposed cushioning, each pair presented a much more modern and aggressive upper that was far removed from the archival Shadow or Jazz. Over the course of the 2000s, it became clear that playing the flash and frills game of visual innovation was not to be Saucony’s lane. In noticing, the brand benefitting by diving hard into competition racing and reviving its retro category.
Through 2003’s Saucony Kilkenny XC Spike, the brand took a sharp left back to its roots by avoiding trendy visual cues and instead honing in on winning races. Quickly, the Kilkenny XC Spike became a staple for serious cross country competitors of various levels. By bringing in elite athletes who excelled in the field rather than pandering to mall buyers, Saucony changed the landscape of distance running by releasing a slipper-styled competition spike that was similar in stance to what sprinters wore yet made to go the distance.
Years later, Saucony once again cornered a demographic in performance running in 2009 with the release of the Kinvara. After decades of brands looking to change running footwear through heavy cushioning and gaudy tech advancements, researchers were beginning to suggest that all this innovation was harmful for the body and that a runner’s gait was much more natural and healthy the closer the runner came to being barefoot. With the Kinvara, Saucony cemented itself as a player in this movement by releasing a running shoe renowned for its 4mm heel-to-toe drop.
While the 2000s saw Saucony find niche spaces in cross-country and the natural foot strike movement, it also allowed for two other opportunities that would change their course. As alluded, Saucony saw its place in the trend of heritage, retro and throwback designs by bringing back the iconic Jazz as a lifestyle staple. Also of major note, the brand changed hands twice. First, Saucony was acquired by the Stride Rite Corporation for $170 Million in 2005. Years later, Stride Rite and all its properties were bought by Payless Shoe Source in 2007, later known as Collective Brands, for a whopping $800 million.
Through the 2010s, Saucony continued to change hands while staying in its lane. In 2011, the Peregrine built off the success of 2009’s Kinvara, extending the ideals of the Kinvara to trail running and full-family sizing. That same year, the Guide continued to play with drop proportions and aggressive styling. In 2012, Saucony would be acquired by Wolverine World Wide, the company that still owns the brand to this day.
Under the ownership of Wolverine World Wide, Saucony continued to lean into its strengths while also adapting to industry trends. Their heritage lifestyle line, known as Saucony Originals, continued to rollout retro releases of revered favorites such as the Jazz, Shadow and Grid range, entering the modern era of boutique collaboration and premium composition. Much like the success seen by Nike and New Balance in the same retro running space, Saucony benefitted from third-party creativity, lush palettes and the mass popularity of vault running models.
On the performance side, Saucony competed with Nike and Adidas by taking on the trend of energy return cushioning. The 2015, the Saucony Triumph ISO 2 showcased Everun innovation with energy return cushioning that won awards in the performance running space. The innovation’s intentions easily draw parallels in performance and market trends to that of Adidas Boost and Nike React. In 2020, the Saucony Endorphin Pro ushered in SpeedRoll technology, engineered to propel runners forward with each stride. Again, the intention mirrors that of Nike’s carbon fiber plate and ZoomX foam seen in their modern marathon models.
Over the course of its 120-plus year history, Saucony has remained topical and important in the worlds of running and lifestyle footwear. Behind the scenes, Saucony has changed hands in regard to ownership many times yet still manages to stay true to its mission of aiding athletes whether running, walking or jogging on the track, terrain or trail.
An American brand since its start in 1898 and also appearing as an American brand in the 2020s, Saucony has sold shoes to multiple generations of wearers in the United States and abroad. Expect to see Saucony continue to make impressive strides in its various segmented spheres of performance running as well as the lifestyle realm through its famed Originals line.