People have been protecting their feet since prehistoric times. Initially they took animal skins wrapped them around their feet and secured them with sinew from animals or plant. Slowly people around the world began to treat and soften the skins before using them to make footwear. In time, they stated to cut the skin into shapes and assemble them into shoes using leather to stitch them together. The sandal was another popular form of early footwear that had a leather or wooden sole, held onto the feet by straps. This style of footwear was worn in hot climates.
Most early shoes were pulled onto the foot, the majority were boots. Richer people wore shoes that opened at the front and were closed back over the foot and secured using buckles or buttons. In 1790 when the shoelace was invented in the UK, the style of shoe changed drastically because of the shoelace.
To start with there was no left or right shoe; both shoes were the same shape. Up until 1858, they were both straight so could be worn on either foot. The soles continued to be made out of leather or wood until 1899 when Humphrey O’Sullivan patented the first rubber heel.
The Liverpool Rubber Company introduced soles made completely out of rubber. The tops were usually made of canvas, but leather shoes still had leather soles. In the USA during the 1880s, people began to call these shoes sneakers, because people wearing them could sneak up on others.
Prior to the mid 1800s the production of shoes was labour intensive and had to be done by skilled personnel this made shoes expensive to buy. Several inventions changed this and made the mass production of shoes possible, which slashed the cost of shoes. The biggest advance happened in 1883 when Jan Ernst Matzeliger invented the automatic shoe last. Prior to his invention, the soles and uppers were stitched together by hand at a rate of 10 pairs an hour. Jan’s automatic laster could churn out up to 700 pairs in a day.