In February, 1916, Nicholai Johnson of Chicago, Illinois patented a new Athletic Shoe design which sought to solve two problems with the standard football shoe. The first was the tendency for cleat tacks to penetrate the sole of the shoe and impact the foot after heavy use. Each time a cleat was replaced, the new cleat had to be nailed further into the sole and eventually protruded into the inside of the shoe. The second problem was the lack of a viable method for quickly changing the type of cleat worn. Prior to interchangeable cleats, a player either had to purchase one pair of shoes for dry fields and a second for wet ones or had to remove one set of cleats and manually tack a different set into the sole. The shoes soles could only handle so many cleat changes before its strength was compromised.
Johnson's patent contemplated an athletic shoe with interchangeable metal plates for the heel and the forefoot. Different styles of vulcanized fiber cleats could be fastened to the plates, which would then be fastened to the sole of the shoe. In this manner, a player only needed one pair of football shoes but could choose between two or more different cleat plates for different field conditions.
There is no record of Johnson's Athletic Shoe being mass produced by a sporting goods manufacturer. It would be another 10 years before a shoe with quick change cleats hit the market.
The Johnson Athletic Shoe
By 1925, innovations in football shoes focused on improving comfort, performance, and durability. New ergonomic non-warp fiber insoles, mechanical fiber cleats, multi-layer rock oak leather soles were just a few of the special design features on Goldsmith's No. 50 Varsity Model Foot Ball Shoes in 1925.
Evolution of Comfort, Performance, and Durability
Athletic Shoe Patent Illustration, N.B. Johnson, Patented June 12, 1917.
On April 26, 1921, Joseph Schwarzer of Syracuse, New York, submitted a patent for a "Cleat Attachment for Football Shoes." The patent, which was issued on September 20, 1921, embedded threaded metal openings between the layers of sole leather into which conical shaped, vulcanized rubber cleats could be screwed. Schwarzer's patent stressed the importance of the conical cleats in his design, with the main object being "to increase the gripping efficiency of shoes...and at the same time to reduce the suction and frictional resistance to withdrawal when embedded in soft earth..."
Joseph Schwarzer's Screw-in Cleats
Athletic Shoe Illustration, Goldsmith Athletic Equipment Fall & Winter Catalog, 1925-1926
Rawlings Football Shoe Ad, Rawlings Fall & Winter Catalog, 1924-1925
Football Shoes Attributed to Jim Thorpe, Circa 1951, SCP Auctions, 2014
Eight years ago, I purchased a pair of "turn-of-the-century football shoes" from a dealer that I have proudly displayed in my collection ever since. Based on my research for this article, I learned that the shoes are likely early twentieth century European soccer or rugby boots. The cylindrical leather cleats on the bottom of these examples and the leather strap across the forefoot are typical of soccer shoes of this era. I can find no evidence of any American football equipment manufacturer that produced similar shoes for football.
Football or Soccer?
Early 20th century soccer/rugby shoes
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Early 20th century soccer/rugby shoes
January 10, 2016
Football Shoe Evolution
By the mid-1920's, most sporting goods companies had incorporated screw-in cleats into their professional model football shoes. This combination of a durable, lightweight upper and the versatility of interchangeable cleats set the standard for football shoes in the 1920's, and would remain the template for top of the line models through the 1970's.
The Modern Football Shoe