THE STORY OF AN ICONIC
Paul Sperry was born in New Haven, Connecticut, a coastal city steeped in ocean-going tradition. From his formative years, Paul
had an affinity for the outdoors and there was never any doubt that saltwater ran deep in his veins. He joined the navy, and upon his
return, he purchased a sailboat, the Sirocco, and he spent much of his free time sailing on the Long Island Sound. An avid inventor,
Paul Sperry would create a product that would change history.
Late one night on Long Island Sound, Sperry slips and falls from the deck of his sailboat, the Sirocco. As he climbs back onto his boat, the idea that would launch a company was born: a shoe uniquely designed to keep a wearer standing firm, even on wet slippery surfaces.
THE MOTHER OF INVENTION
Determined to create a nonslip shoe, Sperry takes inspiration from the natural texture of his cocker spaniel Prince’s footpads, which never seemed to slip, even on ice. He cuts grooved patterns in a natural rubber sole, and glues the hand-cut rubber to the base of an old pair of canvas sneakers, and the world’s first non-slip deck sneaker was invented.
FELLOW YACHTSMAN GET ON BOARD
Sperry writes to all 500 of his fellow members of the Cruising Club of America and asks them for comments on his development of a nonskid deck shoe. He is surprised to receive 497 replies—all requests for a pair of the shoes. Sperry knows he is on to something.
A FRIEND REACHES OUT
Paul receives a huge order from his old friend Frank Howard at Abercrombie & Fitch.
Sperry follows his original deck shoe—featuring a canvas upper and a rubber sole with the development of a leather version. Made with specially tanned leather that didn’t corrode in saltwater, the shoe is the first to utilize the classic moccasin toe stitching as well as the iconic ‘saddle’ lacing, where the shoelaces wrap around the ankle to tighten up the collar. The same construction is used today in the iconic shoe known as the Authentic Original Top-Sider, or A/O—the shoe now synonymous with the term boat shoe.
AN UNEXPECTED PARTNER
Sperry strikes a deal with a rubber company in Boston (Converse) to produce blank soles to which he would apply the siping himself, using a machine of his own unique design.
November 14, 1939: Sperry receives United States patent 117585 for his non-skid sole. He first offers the patent to the United States Rubber Company of Connecticut. The company turns him down because the siped sole would make a pair of shoes very expensive.
The United States War Department names Sperry Top-Sider as one of the official shoes of the Navy and negotiates the right to manufacture the shoes for its sailors. It becomes the official footwear of the casual uniform of the United States Naval Academy.
NOT JUST FOR SAILING ANYMORE
With the war coming to an end, the armed services cut back on their orders, and Top Siders become available for civilian use once again. New styles come into being and the Top-Sider came ashore for leisure, tennis court and industrial wear.
The canvas CVO carves out a niche for itself both as a tennis shoe and a fashionable accessory for the surfer look. They become a favorite of style icons like JFK, Lauren Hutton and Paul Newman.