About the Author: Adam Terry is a 30-year-old Technical Trainer in the heating and manufacturing industry. He’s #menswear by day and #workwear by night. He enjoys raw selvedge denim, Scotch whisky, and working on maintaining his dad bod.
Jump into the brogued leather passenger seat of the Dappered Time Machine™ as we travel back in time to the 1800s and look into the fantastic and interesting history of American rubber companies and their involvement in developing sneakers for this new sport called basketball.
Two period-correct/influenced colorways.
As the story goes, Nathaniel Hayward was a businessman and accidental inventor who was working around the Roxbury and Colchester, CT areas in the early 1800s. After meeting Charles Goodyear in 1837, Hayward and Goodyear set out together for a short time to make India rubber goods in their Haywardville industrial complex. This group of factories were essentially remodeled shoe mills that were formerly owned by Elisha S. Converse, founder of the Boston Rubber Shoe Company, who was the largest shoe manufacturer in the world at the time (Elisha’s cousin, Marquis Converse, founded the Converse Rubber Shoe Company in 1908!). Hayward went on to patent a rubber manufacturing process around 1838 and assigned or sold it to Goodyear, who in turn invented and patented the vulcanization process in 1839 that turned rubber into a more pliable and durable material. Hayward also went on to open the Hayward Rubber Company in Colchester, CT, which operated from 1847 to 1885. Interesting!
Rubber… so many possibilities.
Englishman George Watkinson founded the Colchester Rubber Company in 1888 using the factory buildings that were previously owned by the Hayward Rubber Company. The Colchester Rubber Company was co-managed by George and his son Irving. There, they made high end rubber footwear like working boots, rain boots, and galoshes for cold and wet weather. They also produced canvas and rubber “Tennis” shoes that were used for leisure activities like walking, bicycling, tennis, and yachting. At some point in 1892, Dr. James Naismith approached Irving to help design a shoe made specifically for basketball. Dr. Naismith had just invented the sport the year prior during his tenure at the YMCA in Springfield, MA. Naismith and Irving Watkinson came up with a flexible canvas high top shoe with a vulcanized rubber sole, rubber toe guard cap, and a rubberized ball featuring the company logo on the inner ankle for some protection. Later in 1892, the Colchester Rubber Company was acquired by and consolidated into the United States Rubber Company. The U.S. Rubber Company’s footwear division made products under 30 different brand names until consolidating them all into a new brand, Keds, in 1916. Under this new brand, flexible canvas and rubber “sneakers” flourished. If you’re ever traveling around Springfield, MA, feel free to drop into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and see a pair of these vintage U.S. Rubber Co “Keds” for yourself!
Today, Huckberry offers a modern production version of the 1892 U.S. Rubber Company sneakers that were allegedly designed by Irving Watkinson and Dr. James Naismith through the Colchester Rubber Company. How do they stack up against modern Converse All-Stars?
Classic vintage court sneaker shape made from upgraded materials.
The Adam Review Scale of Excellence (A.R.S.E.)
- 5 – Excellent! No issues and highly recommended.
- 4 – Good. Above average, but not perfect.
- 3 – Average. Minor issues, might be good at the right price.
- 2 – Fair. Below average due to defects, flaws, or imperfections.
- 1 – Poor. Significant issues, not worth purchasing at any price.
- Brand: U.S. Rubber Co.
- Style: High Top Casual Sneakers
- Size: 43 EU, 10 US
- Last: N/A
- Construction: Vulcanized Rubber
- Upper: Canvas
- Sole: Rubber
- Details: Metal eyelets, wide laces, and reinforced toe cap
- Extras: N/A
- Country of Origin: Romania
- Price: $120 US
A modern take on the original version of these sneakers from 1892.
My pair of U.S. Rubber Co. Colchester hi-tops were ordered on a Monday morning through Huckberry. They shipped out later that day via… *checks notes*… UPS Next Day Air Saver and arrived on Tuesday evening. I’d like to imagine that someone at Huckberry sees me as some sort of basketball sneaker aficionado and sent these to me for review on the Meep-Meep Express, but odds are they just wanted this pair out the door on time for business reasons. I’ve always had good luck with Huckberry’s shipping and delivery times, but I wouldn’t count on UPS Next Day Air as a standard service every time. UPS Ground is the default option, I believe.
FYI: Huckberry offers free domestic shipping on all orders over $98 US and a free 60-day return policy (excluding final sale items). As usual, returned goods must be in new and resalable condition. Shoes need to be unworn and show no wear on the soles.
Score: 5/5 Stars – Lightning fast shipping and above average 60-day returns. Nice!
Did the Round Mound of Rebound use this box for three-pointer practice?
This pair arrived in a nicely branded, but otherwise weak, U.S. Rubber Co. cardboard box. Huckberry attempts to reduce their shipping expenses and carbon footprint by using resealable poly mailer bags, but those don’t do much to protect shoe boxes in transit. As such, my box looks like it was used for three-pointer practice by Charles Barkley in preparation for the original Space Jam movie. Not great! However, at this price point, the box isn’t a big piece of the unboxing experience. Looking inside, both sneakers were wrapped and stuffed with ample tissue paper. There were no additional laces or accessories, making it feel like it’s 1892 again.
Score: 3/5 Stars – The unboxing experience wasn’t impressive, but the shoes did arrive.
Fresh out of the box, I really like the overall aesthetic of these retro inspired sneakers. The khaki tan “Deadgrass” canvas uppers are entirely different from anything I’ve seen or felt on similar sneakers before. The color is richly saturated and the tone leans more towards a classic British khaki color. The fabric feels like a washed and softened duck canvas. I especially like the slight texture of the fabric in the hand. It’s much more interesting than your typically tight and uniform canvas sneakers from Converse or Vans. In denim terms, these feel like a vintage pair of Levi’s raw denim that were worn and washed for decades instead of the clinically clean modern ones.
This is not your average canvas.
The tip of the toe box is protected by a semi-circle of sharply contrasting black rubber. While I’m not personally a fan of mixing shades of browns with blacks – I like a more subtle contrast gradient – I think the design detail works and it looks authentically vintage. The side stripes are also a vintage detail from the 1892 pairs and adds a subtle character mark to set these sneakers apart from the Vans wave or the Nike Swoosh. The eight nickel metal eyelets add a flash of sparkle to an otherwise neutral upper assembly and the white laces feel great in hand. All stitching was neat and tidy with no noticeable errors or poor quality control. I’m impressed!
Once again, the canvas on the inside is above average, both soft and pliable.
Peering inside, you’ll see the natural canvas lining and removable insole/sockliner. Unlike other canvas sneakers, this liner is a bit softer and more pliable. It feels great against socked and sockless feet, although I can’t speak to the long term durability of the materials or craftsmanship. The canvas topped insole is lightly padded underneath and could be swapped out with something with better arch support if that’s important to you. A lot of weight lifting athletes prefer sneakers with a rigid, flat sole and these could possibly be accommodating.
A departure from the pattern of vintage soles past, yet the the rubber still feels both comfortable and durable.
The outsole is one notable difference from the vintage 1892 design. Back in the day, the original sole had a “turkey feather” pattern. The modern U.S. Rubber Co. version that we have from Huckberry features a more typical zig-zag pattern that you would find on Adidas sneakers. The sole is still authentically vulcanized and feels both comfortable and durable. It’s attached to the upper with a lovely shade of off-white foxing tape to bind it all together.
Score: 5/5 Stars – Soft canvas upper, removable insole, and a nice zig-zag outsole.
In terms of sizing, I recommend trying your true-to-size Brannock measurement. It’s important to note that the Colchesters are only available in whole sizes, so if you’re in between two, size up for extra space. I tried this pair in an EU 43 which equates to a US 10. The overall fit and feel is similar to that of classic Converse All-Stars or P.F. Flyers, but this size was a hair too small for me to feel comfortable. If I could order this pair again, I’d try one whole size up.
As is typical with these kinds of sneaks, there’s not much arch support to speak of.
For size reference, I am a 10.5 D/E on a Brannock device and usually take a 10 D in most roomy dress shoes, including Alden’s Barrie last and Grant Stone’s Leo last. I take a 10.5 E in Allen Edmonds 65 last, as that last runs too narrow for me. I also take a 10.5 in Converse/Vans and an 11 in most athletic sneakers from Adidas or Nike. Have a size question? Email us!
Comfort is always subjective, but the initial comfort level on this pair of high tops is pretty good. The soft and flexible canvas uppers conform to your feet well, while the removable cloth and foam insole/sockliner sandwich gives a bit of extra comfort and performance on the court. Long term, there’s no arch or heel support so I don’t see them being a great all-day sneaker.
Score: 4/5 Stars – Only whole sizes, so go TTS or size up. Comfort is fine, but no support.
If you’re a basketball history enthusiast or you enjoy a slightly off-the-wall pair of sneakers, you should definitely order a pair of the U.S. Rubber Co. Colchester sneakers to see them in person. In a sneaker league that’s full of canvas contenders from brands like Converse and Vans, the Colchesters are a different breed and should command some attention at your next sneakerhead get together. Style is subjective, so leaving that out of the equation, I think the Colchesters are unique enough and have an interesting story. Check them out for yourself!
Avg. Score: 4.25/5 – Sneakers with an interesting design history and unique looks. Nice!
A unique breed of sneaker with an interesting backstory.