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Where Does The Word “Sneakers” Come From?

I came across a little tidbit in the “Hot Contents” section of Elle‘s July issue that said advertising man Henry Nelson McKinney popularized the term “sneakers” while working on a 1917 Keds campaign. The athletic shoes, as Keds were known before this clever moment, had a rubber sole that allowed the wearer to sneak behind unsuspecting friends and family. But as it turns out, the word “sneakers” was in use way before this time. Boys, who were known to harass their schoolmasters, called their tennis shoes “sneakers” as early as 1887, according to a New York Times article at the time that cited The Boston Journal of Education. In addition, the former Jordan Marsh department store in Boston advertised “500 pairs of men’s tennis oxfords (sneakers)” in 1889. Keds maintains that it was the first to prominently use “sneakers,” but according to its own library, there were only two passing uses of the term in ads from the early part of the 20th century — in 1922 and 1934. So I guess we have naughty little Bostonian boys to thank for the term that gave birth to the sneaker head. [NY Times]

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