In 1895, Joseph William Foster at the age of 14 started work in his bedroom above his father's sweetshop in Bolton, England, and designed some of the earliest spiked running shoes. 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. Foster opened a small factory called Olympic Works, and gradually became famous among athletes for his "running pumps". For pioneering the use of spikes, the company's revolutionary running pumps appear in the book, Golden Kicks: The Shoes that changed Sport. The company began distributing shoes across the Union Jack flag which were worn by British athletes. They 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.
In 1958, in Bolton, two of the founder's grandsons, Joe and Jeff Foster, formed a companion company "Reebok," having found the name in a South African dictionary won in a running race by Joe Foster as a boy. The name is Afrikaans for the grey rhebok, a type of African antelope.