Here’s how a dog’s leg “invented” boat shoes

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In the winter of 1935, in New Haven, Connecticut, it was freezing cold and everything was covered in snow. A man is walking his dog, Prince, a lively Cocker Spaniel who runs on the ice without difficulty. “How will he not slip?” the man asks himself. The first conclusion he reaches is that the animal’s nails stick to the ground like the nails under the shoes of a runner. Then he looks closely at Prince’s paws and discovers that this is not the case.

It is the dog’s fingertips, instead, that catch his attention because they have knurling that he had never noticed. Is that the secret? The man is not just any gentleman, his name is Paul Sperry: he has long been looking for the solution to ensure that his boat shoes do not slip on wet. He himself had risked a few years earlier when he almost fell into the sea from his family’s boat.

At this point he rushes to his laboratory, takes a piece of raw rubber a quarter of an inch thick (about 0.6 cm) and with a razor makes thin parallel incisions by hand, imitating those seen on his dog’s fingertips. He tests this rudimentary sole on a wet piece of metal and discovers that friction has increased. If the pressure on the sole is exerted in the same direction as the cuts, however, the sole slips away. Sperry then understands that it is necessary to cut the zigzag sole. This time the seal is perfect. Paul has a shimmer in his eyes.


Thanks to his Cocker Spaniel, he invented the first non-slip sole in the history of navigation. A lucky career for these shoes that have entered the culture with the emblematic name of “boat shoe”, establishing itself as an icon of style in the world of yachting.

“Actually”, says Gabriele Traversi of Sperry Italia, “the first shoes produced by Sperry were the Top Sider, real ante-litteram ‘sneakers’, worn by John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Paul Newman and even, years later, by the punk band Ramones”. The Authentic Originals were born between 1935 and 1937: the leather moccasin soon dressed all the “upper-class” American yachtsmen, was chosen as the official footwear of the Navy, after the war arrived in Europe and became in effect an essential item for those who dressed “preppy”, inspired by the style imported from colleges and the fabulous ’60s. The shoe became so popular that all the major clothing brands began to produce very similar ones. And even today, the Sperry boat shoe is a constant presence at the feet of sailors, thanks to its elegance and versatility: raise your hand to those who have never owned a pair.

Fonte immagini: @SperryTopSiderItalia

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