Converse athletic shoes have a long and storied history. Converse Inc., currently the largest manufacturer of athletic footwear in the United States, produces the majority of its athletic shoe and sneaker products at its plant in Lumberton, North Carolina, and leases manufacturing facilities in Mission Texas and Reynos, Mexico. Over 500 million pairs of what is perhaps Converse Inc.’s best known product, the Converse All-Star basketball shoe, available in more than 56 colors and styles, have been sold.
The original Converse company, the Converse Rubber Company, was founded in 1908 by Marquis W. Converse. The company originally manufactured and sold rubber boots and rubbers, producing 4,000 pairs daily by 1910. Company sales took a decidedly upward turn in 1917 with the introduction of the Converse canvas All-Star basketball shoe, the first shoe truly designed for the then still young game. Basketball great, Charles “Chuck” Taylor played a major role in introducing the shoe to the general public, and the company experienced good times up until the Depression.
The Converse Rubber Company fell into bankruptcy in 1929, and control passed to the Hodgeman Rubber Company. This arrangement lasted until 1933, when the company was purchased by the Stone family, who managed Converse for the next 39 years. During this time, Converse became a market leader, selling not only footwear to the Armed Services during World War II, but also due to a rapid expansion into the civilian market in the post-war years.
By the 1970’s Converse had diversified and operated under three separate divisions, Sporting Goods, Footwear, and Industrial. In 1972 the company was sold to Eltra Corporation, which also purchased the footwear division of the B.F. Goodrich Co. including a modern manufacturing plant and distribution center in Lumberton, North Carolina. Converse continued to prosper, but by the late 1970’s was forced to pare down operations, spin off several product lines, and consolidate.
In 1979 ownership changed hands again, with Allied Corporation, a giant chemical conglomerate taking over. Converse prospered under Allied but the conglomerate underwent a restructuring, and Converse spun off to become a private entity once again.
Converse began to expand by increasing exports to Japan and Europe in the early 1980’s. About the same time a newcomer, Nike, began making inroads in the athletic shoe sector along with Reebok, giving Converse significant competition.
Still, Converse remained the leader insofar as the sales of basketball shoes was concerned, becoming the official shoe of the NBA as well as the official shoe of the United States Olympic Committee sponsored USA Basketball team. The late 1980’s saw Converse moving into the global basketball arena, signing contracts with the World Association of Basketball Coaches and the Federation Internationale de Basketball (FIBA).
In 1986 Converse was acquired by Interco Incorporated, a manufacturer and retailer of footwear and furniture products. A little over four years later, in 1991, Interco Corp filed bankruptcy, but Converse was able to weather the storm, and due to a brilliant advertising campaign in 1991-92 Converse’s fortunes took a decided turn for the better with the introduction of its Run “N” Slam shoe.
Interco eventually decided to sell its Converse subsidiary, which was spun off in 1994. Converse then began to diversify into the world of apparel but the next 2 years were not good ones. Converse hired Glenn Rupp, the former head of Wilson’s Sporting Goods Co. in 1996, and Rupp immediately begin to play up Converse’s “Made In The USA” theme. Better times returned, only to halt when the general public began a switch from sneakers to work boots and hiking boots, the so-called “brown” shoes. Nevertheless, Converse plowed funds into research which eventually paid off with a new technology, the He:01 Helium Gas Shoe, opening the 21st century.
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