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Joseph William Foster, founder of Reebok's predecessor company, made running shoes with spikes way back in the late 19th century, making him one of the first shoe manufacturers to do this and helping to develop the athletic shoe into its current form. In 1895, Foster opened a business in the United Kingdom, J.W. Foster and Sons, to market his high-quality handmade running shoes to knowledgeable athletes across the world. By 1924, Foster and Sons had an established reputation for manufacturing superior shoes, and the company was given the chance to manufacture running shoes for athletes representing England in the Olympics. Among the runners performing in Foster shoes were the legendary Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, runners whose lives form the basis of the classic movie "Chariots of Fire."
With this legacy of high-quality footwear construction in mind, two of Foster's grandchildren, Joe and Jeff Foster founded Mercury Sports. This was the company that would become Reebok in 1960, named after the Dutch word for an African gazelle. The company lived up to the J.W. Foster legacy, manufacturing first-class footwear for customers throughout the UK. In 1979, Paul Fireman, a sporting goods distributor, saw a pair of Reeboks at an international trade show and negotiated to sell them in North America. Three styles of Reebok running shoes were introduced to the U.S. market later that year. At $60 per pair, these shoes were the most expensive shoes on the American market, but many consumers decided the shoes were worth the expense.
The Freestyle aerobic shoes, designed with lightweight comfort and iconic double Velcro ankle straps, were the first shoes designed specifically for women's athletics and soon became a staple of 1980s fitness and fashion. By 1985, Reebok products were available in more than 170 countries. In 1989, Reebok introduced another piece of classic 80s footwear; the Pump. The popularity of the Pump, a basketball shoe with adjustable air cushioning for custom fit and support, helped Reebok to dominate the court in the late 80s and early 90s. Perhaps it was this history of court domination that inspired Reebok to sign contracts with such preeminent court (hardwood and clay) athletes as Allen Iverson and Venus Williams. Though adidas purchased Reebok in 2006, 10 year contracts to supply uniforms for players in the NFL, NBA, and WNBA ensure that the Reebok name and sensibility with its roots planted in the 19th century, will last well into the 21st.