Sperry or Sperry Top-Sider is the original American brand of boat shoe designed in 1935 by Paul A. Sperry, older brother of writer and illustrator Armstrong Sperry, whose books often featured a sailing theme. Sperrys, or Top-Siders, were the first boat shoes introduced into the boating and footwear markets. Today the Sperry brand is owned by Wolverine World Wide and is headquartered in Lexington, Massachusetts.
While sailing on the Long Island Sound, inventor and sailor Paul A. Sperry slipped on the deck of his boat and fell overboard. He was able to pull himself back on board, but the experience drove him to develop a non-slip shoe. While experimenting with possibilities for non-slip shoes, he noticed his dogs’ ability to run down the icy hill without slipping. The grooves on the paws of his cocker spaniel, Prince, inspired him to try cutting grooved patterns (siping) a natural rubber sole. The pattern of grooves or cracks on his dog’s paws gave him the idea for a canvas upper-shoe with a herringbone pattern of grooves on the sole.
The cutting of grooves in the sole of the Top-Sider was an implementation of a process of splitting or siping a shoe sole invented and patented in the 1920s by John Sipe. This process was instrumental in maximizing the traction of the Authentic Original Sperry Top-Sider boat shoe, which was first introduced in 1935. Sperry’s first shoe featured a white outsole, which prevented the shoe from leaving marks on a boat’s deck. The Commonwealth Shoe and Leather Co. later partnered with Paul A. Sperry to design a new leather shoe design made with specially tanned leather which later became the Sperry Authentic Original boat shoe.
Sperry’s shoes remained a niche product for boaters until 1939 when the U.S. Navy negotiated the right to manufacture the shoe for its sailors at the United States Naval Academy. As a result of this increase in production, Paul A. Sperry sold the Sperry brand to the U.S. Rubber Co. in 1940. In 1979 the Stride Rite Corporation purchased both Sperry and Keds (shoes) from the U.S. Rubber Company. In 2007 Payless ShoeSource acquired Sperry Top-Sider as part of a multi-brand acquisition, but the company was again acquired in 2012, along with the other brands from the Collective Brands Performance and Lifestyle Group portfolio, by Wolverine World Wide and Blum Capital Partners for $1.23 billion USD.
The patent application for the Paul A. Sperry’s Sperry Authentic Original boat shoe.
From 2001 to 2014 Craig L. Reingold served as the Brand President of Sperry, but upon Reingold’s exit from the company Wolverine World Wide announced in a press release on September 15, 2015 that Rick Blackshaw, the former Brand President of Keds, would be leading Sperry as the Brand President. In early 2015 Sperry President Rick Blackshaw announced that the brand had dropped the “Top-Sider” moniker from the company name as part of the footwear company’s new brand campaign. Blackshaw serves as the President of Sperry today.
Today girls and guys from toddlers to adults wear the Sperry’s brand. Kids, tweens, teens, and college students have made Sperry’s fashionable as everyday wear. It is not uncommon to see socks worn with Sperry’s especially ankle or low cut socks. Many private schools, religious schools, and public schools with school uniforms now allow Sperry’s as a uniform shoe choice.