Who Was Chuck Taylor and Why Is a Popular Basketball Shoe Named After Him?

It looks like many people have worn a pair of Chuck Taylor’s, the famous canvas shoes that have been around since 1917.  But perhaps not everyone can have the genuine “Chucks.” In 2014, Nike filed a lawsuit against 31 companies – from Wal-Mart to K-Mart – over claims that they copied the iconic sneaker.

Nike, who bought the iconic Converse brand in 2003, alleged that the consumers were choosing to buy Chuck Taylor knock-offs made by other brands.

While Chuck Taylor is no doubt one of the most popular names in the world of basketball sneakers, not much is known about the man whom the sneakers were named after. Who exactly is Chuck Taylor, and why is an iconic basketball shoe named after him? It seems that Mr. Taylor’s descendants (if he had any), and not Nike, should be the ones to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement.

These basketball sneakers are named after Charles Hollis Taylor, a basketball player-turned-shoes salesman. He was born in Azalia, Indiana on June 24, 1901. Basketball was still a novel sport at the time but it was starting to take the United States by storm – and the Hoosier State was no exception. While he was in teens, Taylor became a member of a high school basketball team and was eventually named team captain.

Just fresh out of high school, Taylor went on to play for several ball clubs, including the Columbus Commercials and Akron Firestone Non-Skids in Ohio. In 1921 (or 1922), he found a new calling outside the hard court – as a sales representative for the Converse Rubber Shoe Co. (the company later shortened its name to Converse, Inc.)

Converse had introduced their All-Star canvas sneakers a few years earlier (in 1917) and obviously, Chuck Taylor’s name wasn’t stamped on them yet. It is not clear whether Taylor loved the All-Star shoes so much that he decided to work for Converse, or that he limped into Converse’s Chicago sales office complaining of sore feet and convincing the company to create basketball shoes.

Whatever the reason, it seems that Chuck Taylor’s entry would be a boon for Converse. Not long after he was hired, Taylor proved himself indispensable to the company. He listened to customer feedback and used it to form suggestions which he passed on to make improvements on the shoe. Soon, his suggestions of changing the shoe’s design to provide improved support and flexibility, as well as a patch to protect the ankle, were given the “go-signal” by the company.  As the patch was included on the shoe’s ankle, the logo All-Star was immediately added on it.

Chuck Taylor’s name was added to the patch in 1932, and the shoe became immediately known as “Chuck Taylor All-Stars.” Several decades later, the iconic shoe is now popularly referred to as “Chuck Taylor shoes,” “Chuck Taylors” or simply “Chucks.”

Taylor was also behind the creation of Converse Basketball Yearbook (1923) where the best players, teams, trainers as well as the greatest basketball milestones and moments were commemorated. He conducted basketball clinics all over the country as well.

Despite his crucial role to the success of the shoe, Taylor was only paid with a salary and didn’t get a commission from the millions of Chuck Taylors sold. Taylor – who didn’t spare a bit in using Converse’s expense account in addition to earning a decent salary – was believed to have never received royalties from the sales of the shoe that bore his name.

Chuck Taylor died in Port Charlotte, Florida, on June 23, 1969 – just one day short of his 68th birthday. Even though he has long been gone, the shoes continue to carry his legacy. Converse sells over 270,000 pairs of Chuck Taylors every day. If you come think about it, it means that Converse sells about three pairs of Chuck Taylors per second, or about 100 million pairs per year. It seems that Chuck Taylor’s star hasn’t faded just yet, as long as there are fans who just could not get enough of the iconic sneaker with his famous cursive signature on it.