As any parent can attest, a kid’s energy knows no bounds and, as a result, if their footwear isn’t up to the task, it can be decimated quickly from the rigors of playtime. In fact, way back in the 1800s, kids didn’t even have shoes for play, only those of the leather variety, which were considered their “good shoes” – ones that they were expected to keep in good condition. If only there was some form of footwear that they could play in, and get as dirty as they wanted without the scorn of a parent’s watchful eye, all would truly be right in the world. Their shoe saviors were a company called Keds, who have been providing footwear for active kids and adults for over a century now.
All of this was possible thanks to a man known as Charles Goodyear, who patented a process of vulcanizing rubber for the automotive tire industry. Pretty spiffy stuff, that rubber was, and it was soon incorporated into the soles of shoes. The US Rubber company had begun experimenting with rubber soles in 1892, but it was their merger with Goodyear in 1916 that introduced a canvas, rubber-soled shoe that would become known as the “sneaker” for its stealth-like, no-squeak, abilities.
All Goodyear and US Rubber needed was a name for their new footwear company. They originally thought “Peds” might make a good name but it was already a registered trademark. Realizing that the target demographic was kids, they decided upon another name that was available and called their product Keds. At last, there was a shoe that could handle the abuse of any child and live to tell the tale. Originally marketed towards boys, they were ready for any running and jumping activities that could be imagined and soon every boy was sporting a pair of these durable sneakers.
Available in either black or white, in low and high top versions, there would be few changes to the Keds line until the 50s, when they introduced the Pro-Keds line of sports shoe, similar in design to a Converse All-Star but not limited to basketball use. Keds would be the most popular play shoe available until the late 50s when brands such as Jeepers and PF Flyers would take over.
By the 70s, Keds had lost ground to the plethora of running shoes now available. When the company was bought by the Stride-Rite corporation, they focused less on athletics and speed and promoted their comfort. When they introduced their new leather and canvas Champion Keds line, this time they were embraced not by athletic boys, but by fashionable girls who made the comfy shoes a must-have item in their collection. By the 80s, a whole palette of pastel colors were introduced, ensuring that there was a perfect match available for every outfit imaginable.
Sure, there days as the foremost athletic shoe have long since passed, but Keds are just as much a part of the shoe market as they ever were. When it comes to comfortable and casual footwear, few shoes have ever made kids feet as happy as Keds – over a hundred years of running, jumping and relaxing, and still going strong.
If you’ve worn a few pairs of Keds back in the day, we’d love to hear your memories in our comments section as we pay tribute to this classic kids footwear from yesteryear.