J.W. Foster and Sons

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J.W. Foster and Sons
IndustryAthletic shoe manufacture
FounderJoseph William Foster
United Kingdom

J W Foster & Sons (Athletic Shoes) Limited is a former athletic shoe manufacturer located in Bolton, England. The company founder, Joseph William Foster, was born in 1881 and trained as a cobbler. At the age of 14 in 1895, as a member of the local harriers, he started work in his bedroom above his father's sweet shop in Bolton, and designed some of the earliest spiked running shoes.[1] After his ideas progressed, he founded his business 'J.W. Foster' in 1900, later he joined with his sons and changed the company name to J.W. Foster and Sons.[2][3] Foster opened a small factory called Olympic Works, and gradually became famous among athletes for his "running pumps".[1]

1924 Olympic 100 m champion Harold Abrahams wearing J.W. Fosters pioneering running spikes.

For pioneering the use of spikes, the company's revolutionary running pumps appear in the book, Golden Kicks: The Shoes that changed Sport.[4] The company began distributing shoes across the United Kingdom and were worn by British athletes, and were made famous by 100m Olympic champion Harold Abrahams (who would be immortalized in the Oscar winning film Chariots of Fire) in the 1924 Summer Olympics held in Paris.[4][5]

Joe died in 1933, 18 months before his second grandson is born in 1935 on his birthday, 18 May, a second Joseph William. The ‘Foster’ company is continued by sons Billy and Jim, headed by Joe’s wife Maria, who hands the business to Billy and Jim in 1939. Again war interrupts the business, but the J W Foster & Sons pick up their business, with Derek Ibbotson breaking the Mile world record. Foster’s were also supplying most First Division (now Premiership) Football teams with Trainers and sign a contract for US distribution by Frank Ryan and Bob Geinjack, coaches at Yale.

Jeffrey William Foster (Jeff), Jim’s first son, joins ‘Fosters’ in 1948 and Joseph (Joe) joins later in 1952. But, in 1953 National Service takes first Joe and six months later Jeff away for 2 years. On their return to ‘Fosters’ they see a business failing to move forward. Requests to change go unheeded, so in November 1958 the Reebok story begins.[4] Eighteen months after Joe and Jeff leave ‘J W Fosters’ to set up their own company, Billy dies at the age of 58. Jim carries on the business at Deane Road, until the ‘Olympic Works’ makes way for the new Bolton Technical College, which is later to become Bolton University. Jim moves J W Foster & Sons (Athletic Shoe) Ltd to the North of Bolton, opening as a Sports Shop. His business continues until his death in 1976, at which time the ownership transfers to Reebok. The J W Foster Tradition continues today as J W Foster (Heritage) Ltd, with many items held on loan in the Reebok Archive in Boston.


  1. ^ a b "Adidas buys Reebok to conquer US". The Telegraph. 6 October 2016.
  2. ^ "Brand History" at ShoeBacca.com(Archive)
  3. ^ at reebokthefounder.com(Brand History)
  4. ^ a b c Colea, Jason (2016). Golden Kicks: The Shoes that Changed Sport. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 14–16.
  5. ^ Vartanig G. Vartan (May 15, 1986). "Market Place; The Surging Reebok Stock". The New York Times. Retrieved February 24, 2015.