Footwear History: The Boat Shoe That Started It All

Written by: Kimberly Bellamy


A piece of footwear history that has saved many sailors and boaters.

In 1935, avid sailor and inventor Paul Sperry—a former Dartmouth student and U.S. Navy seaman—made an astounding discovery. One day, after watching his dog run effortlessly across the ice, he used a penknife to hand-cut grooves into a gum rubber sole, mimicking the natural pattern on his dog’s paw pads. In that moment, the world’s first boat shoe was born.

Word quickly got out about Sperry’s remarkable new shoes and their ability to keep sailors safe on deck. During World War II, the Sperry Top-Sider became one of the official shoes of the U.S. Navy. It is still the official shoe of the America’s Cup race.


Wherever you find summertime fun, you’ll find Sperry shoes.

So, next time you’re on a slippery boat deck, dock, or walkway, remember that you have a dog to thank for keeping you steady on deck.

Classic all-American companies, Orvis and Sperry share a love for adventure and a commitment to a life spent outdoors. Are you an Authentic Original die-hard? Or do you gravitate to the colorful ease of the Bahama 2-Eye? Whatever fits your style, we’ve got the shoe (and the sandal, and even the watch!).

Check out our Sperry collection today.

One thought on “Footwear History: The Boat Shoe That Started It All”

  1. Like so many other things in life, the boat shoe started as a simple, practical solution to a problem. In 1935, Paul A. Sperry of New Haven, Connecticut, was inspired by his dog’s ability to run over ice without slipping. He cut a siping pattern into the sole of a rubber sneaker, and voilà: the world’s first non-slip shoe was born (for humans). I have to buy university coursework so that I could submit it on time. You can find many variations of this story online — some say that Sperry cut up an old tire and glued it to the bottom of his shoes. Either way, it worked. And thus began a footwear revolution that would eventually spawn everything from slip-on Vans to Sperry’s own Authentic Original Boat Shoe.

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