History of Ultimate Cleats: Part 2

Here at TOKAY we are really into cleats. As we get closer and closer to releasing our own; join us for a look back at the fascinating history of cleats.

PART 1 – Cordwainers and Cobblers (from the first mention of football boots to the early 20th century)
PART 2 – Rise of the Brands (cleats of the early 20th century)
PART 3 – Post War Innovation (cleat development from the 1940’s onwards)
PART 4 – Rules, Regulations, and Industry
PART 5 – The First Cleats for Ultimate


As we read in Part 1, the late 19th century saw the introduction of studs to working boots, and their regulation. This development transformed ordinary working boots into cleats. These early cleats, with their above ankle cut and nailed in leather studs, soon left the custody of the cordwainers and the cobbles as brands took over and made cleats a business. The early 20th century introduced us to some of the big names in the sports footwear industry. And although cleats didn’t really change that much in this time, there was a lot of stud specific tinkering in order to develop the replaceable or screw-in stud.

Soccer was a popular sport throughout the world wars, and brands we still recognize today (like Gola, Valsport and Hummel) started to come into circulation. Gola, founded back in 1905, even supplied the British Army with army boots (not soccer boots) during WWII. Other soccer and rugby brands like Umbro and Canterbury were founded in the early 20th century, although they would not produce cleats for their respective sports until much later.

The Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory, founded in 1920, also produced soccer boots, although it was primarily known for their athletic spikes for sprinting. Dassler’s athletic spikes were worn by none other than Jesse Owens at the Olympic Games in 1936, a big coup for the company. Disagreements between the two brothers brought their collaboration to a premature end. The event that pushed their relationship into irreconcilable differences is widely believed to be Rudolf Dassler being falsely accused of being a member of the SS, since Rudolf believed his brother Adolf was behind the false accusation. The brothers dissolved the company shortly after WWII, but both remained in the soccer cleat business: Rudolf Dassler founded Puma in 1948 and Adolf “Adi” Dassler founded adidas in 1949. Both companies were based in the town of Herzogenaurach where competition between the two brothers kept the town strongly divided. The town even has two soccer teams, one historically sponsored by Puma and one by adidas. Tensions within Herzogenaurach have largely subsided since the deaths of Rudolf and Adolf Dassler in the 1970’s. 

adidas founder Adi Dassler (left), Puma founder Rudolf Dassler (center), and the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory (right)

While there is considerable debate about the first inventor of studs for cleats and boots, adidas is often credited as the first manufacturer of replaceable and interchangeable studs. While untrue, the claim is given credence by the compelling story of Adi Dassler’s involvement in West Germany’s victory over Hungary in the 1954 FIFA World Cup final. Heavy rain during the final made the pitch increasingly slippery. As kit manager of the West German national team, Adi was able to quickly change the team’s adidas screw-in studs during half-time. Changing studs was a process that usually took a considerable amount of time and was usually only done for repair purposes, not to improve grip on muddy terrain. The Hungarians, whose studs could not be so quickly changed, played out the game on short cork studs nailed into place.

While this tale is considered the origin story of screw-in studs, such studs had been in development for at least the previous 30 years. There was an earlier German patent in 1925, a French patent in 1924, an American patent in 1922 and a British patent in 1921. The methods of these earlier patents were however usually only meant for repair purposes, and Adi Dassler also improved on these methods with a more firm anchoring of the stud into the shoe, making his design less prone to damage.

1954 World Cup Cleats by adidas and Adi Dassler’s 1953 patent illustrations

Meanwhile, in the US, the switch from cobblers to companies was even more strongly marked by the search for interchangeable studs. Here John T. Riddell was credited with the invention of the removable stud. The initial cleats for American football were similar to those used for soccer and rugby. And as Head Football Coach for Evanston Township High School, Riddell often ran into problems with the leather studs of the day. The school was dependant on the same cobbler as Northwestern University for the replacement of studs, and the cobbler was frequently unable to service all of the Evanston Township High School cleats before the start of their games. In the US, the interchanging of studs for other studs better suited to different terrain seems to have been more prevalent than in Europe. And to bypass their dependance on the local cobbler, John T. Riddell invented, or at least developed and patented, a removable cleat stud.

diagrams in Riddell’s patent application, submitted in 1922

The success of these removable football cleats prompted him to start Riddell in 1929, a company currently better known for their helmets. Riddell’s innovations in the field of cleats did not end there. He also developed an “Action Last.” A last is the form, similar in shape to a the human foot, that is used in the production and repair of shoes. Other American football shoes were usually fabricated using regular street shoe lasts, but Riddell’s “Action Lasts” gave the shoes a more active form. 

early Riddell cleats (left) and Pipal’s mud cleats (right)

Another innovator of the American football cleat was Joseph Pipal, who also revolutionized the sport itself. In 1913 Pipal introduced the lateral pass to American football. At the time, its ancestor rugby was threatening to replace American football entirely. Pipal’s introduction of the lateral pass, a move common to rugby, is credited by some as saving the young sport. Later, in the 1930’s, Pipal introduced the mud cleat: a cleat with longer and pointier studs better suited to…. muddy conditions.

The early days of cleat development were mainly focused on the sole of the shoes and the studs themselves. The leather upper saw very little development in the first half of the 20th century, but from the 1950’s onward, an increased focus on performance would transform cleats in their entirety.

PART 3 coming soon…


Adidas Football Boots.Adidas Football Boots, Fubra Limited.
Bang, Anna. “Gola | Born In Britain.Volt Café, Volt Magazine, 14 June 2013.
Burwell, Fred. “Fridays with Fred: Beloiter Invents the Lateral Pass.The Terrarium, Beloit College, 27 Sept. 2013.
Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory.The Herzogenaurach Story, 30 Mar. 2015.
Gallagher, Brenden. “The Surprising and Unexpected Evolution of Football Cleats.Complex, Complex Media Inc., 13 Sept. 2012.
Riddell, John Tate. Athletic Shoe. 12 Oct. 1926.
Seitz, Markus, and Klaus Wollny. “Studs.Football and Technology, Deutsches Patent- Und Markenamt, 29 Feb. 2016.
The History of Soccer Cleats – Part 1.
Golden Shoes Soccer Movie, Norman Koza Production, 11 Oct. 2013.
Woods, Jerry. “John Tate Riddell.Genealogy.com, 10 Dec. 2006.


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