At some point in every American’s life, we all end up buying a pair of Converse’s (now Nike’s) Chuck Taylor All-Stars. It’s a right of passage for everyone. For Hoosiers especially, what with our love of basketball and all, it’s almost a prerequisite for living in the great state of Indiana. However, many residents may not know that the famous Converse shoe was actually designed by and named after a Hoosier!
The classic Chuck Taylor All Star. Image in the public domain, courtesy: Hadley1978.
That’s right, Charles Hollis “Chuck” Taylor was born right here in Indiana, Brown County to be exact, on June 24, 1901. Taylor attended Columbus High School and excelled at basketball, making the varsity team in his sophomore year and played as a guard. After graduating in 1919, Taylor played for the semi-pro Columbus Commercials and two other semi-pro teams in Indianapolis in the early 1920s. He eventually moved on to play for the Akron Firestone Non-Skids and a few other teams in Detroit and Chicago.
1917 Columbus High School varsity basketball team. Taylor (bottom row, far left) was a sophomore and graduated in 1919.
In 1921, Taylor got a job with Converse Rubber Shoe Company as a salesman, supposedly after walking into the company’s Chicago headquarters and complaining about his sore feet. Taylor offered the company some modifications for their signature athletic shoe; changes specifically designed for basketball players. Converse adopted Taylor’s ideas and then hired him for $50 a month to travel around the United States and sell the shoes to athletic teams, both amateur and professional.
A 'pre-Chuck Taylor' Converse shoe.
By mid-decade, Converse added the all-star logo to the side of the shoe. In the early 1930s, the company then added Taylor’s signature. Ever after, the now-famous shoe was known as Chuck Taylor All Stars. The shoe was a hit with basketball players and athletes of many sports. Taylor’s design dominated the athletic shoe market for decades and was the shoe for basketball players for much of the mid-20th century.
There’s a lot of lore about Taylor, not all of which can be confirmed in the historical record. He may have played for other basketball teams, like the Buffalo Germans and the New York Celtics, but no evidence supports that. He may also have designed the 1936 basketball shoe for the U.S. Olympic team. Like all good salesmen, the story is often more important than measly little facts. Taylor did, however, live out of hotels for the many years as Converse’s most popular traveling salesman.
Taylor continued with Converse for nearly three decades. He promoted his shoes primarily through celebrity basketball clinics (Taylor was the celebrity) where he offered players advice on the game, but which also provided an opportunity to promote his shoes. As the Converse company changed hands, the new owners placed Taylor at the forefront of their marketing. He often made celebrity appearances at games and other public events throughout the United States. During the Second World War, Taylor became a fitness consultant for the U.S. Army Air Corps and coached the Wright Field Air-Tec basketball team in Dayton, Ohio.
Taylor posing during one of his clinics. Image courtesy of the Charlotte Observer. Published December 10, 1935.
After he retired from Converse in 1968, Taylor was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. He was married twice in life, first to the actress Ruth Adler from 1950-1955 and then to Lucille Kimbrell from 1962 until the end of his life. Taylor died on June 23, 1969 and is buried in Restlawn Memorial Gardens in Port Charlotte, Florida.
A typical Converse ad from 1940, after Taylor became a celebrity salesman for the company.
Taylor’s famous shoe lost a bit of its lustre in the 1970s, but made a comeback in subsequent decades, as new generations found and incorporated the shoe’s iconic style. Today, Chuck Taylor All-Stars are ubiquitous and found on basketball courts, feet, and in closets across the United States….a little bit of Hoosier in every household.