January 10, 2016
Football Shoe Evolution
In 1901, A.G. Spalding & Bros. introduced the "Spalding Improved Foot Ball Shoe,"which was nearly identical to the previous Model A2-0 but for a revolutionary new style of cleat. The "Yale cleat" was constructed out of multiple layers of sole leather, stacked and laminated together, and then cut into a trapezoidal-shape. As with the Princeton cleat, the Yale cleat was nailed into the sole of the shoe with tack nails. The new cleat shape and configuration on the sole of the shoe provided greater traction than the Princeton cleat due to their greater surface area. By 1903, most leading University players wore Spalding's Improved Foot Ball Shoe, which remained the most popular shoe on the market through the 1920's. Leather Yale cleats were standard equipment on most football shoes from 1901 until the late 1930's.
Spalding's Improved Football Shoe and The Yale Cleat
Around 1900, Mike Murphy, the trainer for Yale University's football team, invented a steel ankle brace insert for football shoes. The brace was constructed of two pieces of tempered steel, one of which was fashioned in a right angle, joined with a swivel rivet. The swivel allowed the brace to flex front to back as a player ran, but protected the ankle by prohibiting lateral movement.
In 1903, Spalding sold Murphy's brace as "Spalding's Foot Ball Ankle Brace." According to the advertisement, the brace could "be put in your shoes by any shoemaker." By 1904, the Murphy brace was integrated into several models of Spalding Foot Ball Shoes between the lining and the leather.
Integrated Ankle Brace
Punting requires a firm, square contact with the foot. The standard turn-of-the-century football shoe's laces along the top of the foot could make kicking unpredictable. To improve punting accuracy, new shoe designs were introduced which either covered or eliminated laces to provide a smooth contact surface. D.J. Golden's 1906 Sporting Boot patent incorporated a leather flap to cover the lower laces. A rare and unique punting shoe example sold by SCP Auctions in 2011 featured a leather flap across the top of the foot which buttoned at the side of the shoe in lieu of laces.
By 1905, sporting goods manufacturers were offering football shoes in varying grades of quality and for different specializations. "College" and "Varsity" models were typically manufactured out of kangaroo leather while amateur and youth shoes were constructed of less expensive calfskin.
Spalding's "Foot Ball Sprinting Shoe" was designed for speed. It featured a lightweight three-part sole which allowed for greater flex and a reduced number of cleats. In 1910, Spalding introduced the "Featherweight Shoe," which came with a disclaimer:
The Foot Ball Sprinting Shoe
Spalding Improved Foot Ball Shoe, Ad, 1902
Football Shoe featuring Yale Cleats, circa 1905, SCP Auctions
Spalding Foot Ball Ankle Brace Ad, 1903
For fastest players only, not for general or hard usage."
Spalding Special Sprinting Foot Ball Shoe, 1904
Closeup of stacked leather Yale cleats
Yale cleats provided superior traction on the gridiron, but had a tendency to soften and cake with mud on wet fields. Special mud cleats could be installed on new foot ball shoes by special order from Spalding and other manufacturers. There were a variety of styles of mud cleats offered, but most included conical shaped leather cleats on the forefoot and crowbars on the heal. This configuration was less likely to clog with mud but afforded less traction than the standard shoe on dry fields. Players would either need to purchase a separate pair of shoes for muddy fields, or have a shoemaker or cobbler replace their Yale cleats with mud cleats before a game. The latter was problematic because each time cleats were tacked into and removed from the shoe, the sole was was weakened, shortening the life of the shoe. An innovative design in 1917 solved this problem with interchangeable cleats, but it wouldn't be until the late 1920's that shoes with changeable cleats would be made available commercially.
Circa 1905 Kicking Shoe with Unique side button fasteners, SCP Auctions
1922 Spalding No. KK Special Kicking Shoe Ad, 1922
D.J. Golden Sporting Boot Patent, October 9, 1906
Field goals in the early twentieth century were kicked straight on with the toe of the foot. By the mid-1910's, manufacturers were producing a box toe shoe that provided kickers more contact area with the ball. Spalding offered the No. KK Special Kicking Shoe, but also modified other shoe models with a box toe upon request for an additional charge.
Spalding Shoe Ad, 1919