Marquis Mills Converse (1861 – 1931)

From Mystery Man to Household Name

Marquis Mills Converse is something of a mystery man.  Very little is known about him before he founded the shoe company we know and love today called Converse.  His place of birth is even up for debate.  Most sources place his birth as August 3, 1861, but some say he was born in Malden, Massachusetts while most say he was born in Lyme, New Hampshire.

From there he’s mostly a mystery until he forms the company whose name became synonymous with basketball.  In the late 1800s, although rubber shoes had been around for decades, most shoes were still made of leather because rubber was traditionally more expensive than leather.  That being said, by the end of the century rubber shoes had become a status symbol among the rich as they played badminton and tennis.  Such shoes were called sneakers because their soft soles allowed wearers to “sneak up on” others. 

It’s into this growing market for rubber soled shoes that Converse formed the Converse Rubber Shoe Company in Malden, Massachusetts in 1908.  His goal was to manufacture better rubber soled shoes for men, women and children than those currently available. 

And he did.  Within two years Converse was producing 4,000 shoes daily and the company’s popular canvas tennis shoe business almost doubled by 1917.  That was the year that the company introduced the Converse All-Star basketball shoe with a high top for better support, a cushioned insole for more comfort and a diamond pattern tread for better traction.    

The All-Star began to take the shape we’re all familiar with today in 1921 when Converse hired professional basketball player Charles “Chuck” Taylor to help redesign and sell the shoe. One of the most consequential elements of the redesigned shoe was the inclusion of the now familiar All-Star logo circle, making the shoe instantly recognizable as a Converse.

With Taylor onboard Converse became a marketing machine.  The company would host training camps at YMCAs and other venues across the country and established a traveling basketball team – The Converse All-Stars – with players sporting the eponymous shoes. Later the company would append Taylor’s signature to the redesigned All-Star, making it the first celebrity endorsed athletic shoe in history. The company also started a magazine featuring athletes wearing All-Stars. Together these marketing innovations would set the company on the path to becoming a household name for decades to come.

Marquis Mills Converse would helm the company he founded until his death in 1931. Although it struggled after the 1929 crash, Converse would go on to dominate the American athletic shoe market for the next 40 years, becoming the official shoe of the Olympics from 1936 until 1968 and the official athletic training shoes of the U.S. military during World War II.  The 1970’s began a time of tumult for Converse which resulted restructurings, bankruptcy and eventually the being bought in 2003 by industry leader Nike for $300 million. 

More than a century after Marquis Mills Converse founded his eponymous company, the Converse remains a household name in America, having morphed from an athletic brand into to a lifestyle brand whose logo adorns the ankles of millions of Americans of all ages.