Yes, you read that correctly. The most successful shoe ever produced was first made, no joke, in a waffle iron. It all started back in the early 1960s. Bill Bowerman, a University of Oregon track and field coach, and his former player, Phil Knight, started a company called Blue Ribbon Sports. Bowerman was trying to figure out a way to make a shoe that would have more traction than the traditional running shoe. The university had recently transitioned from a cinder to an artificial-surface track and more traction was needed so the runners wouldn't keep slipping. It would also be nice if the shoe could make them faster. Or at least not weigh so much.
Some sneakers/tennis shoes are very expensive. For the most part, however, everyone has or has had at least one pair. This was not always the case, however. The soles of the first sneakers debuted in the 1989s. They were made of rubber — a very expensive raw material. And then of course the purpose of the sneaker was to run. Just like today, that was done during one's leisure time. Only the rich had such time. Little by little companies started mass producing sneakers. One of the of most successful? The Converse Rubber Shoe Company. Why were they so successful? They were the first to enlist a celebrity endorser: the basketball player Chuck Taylor (yes, that is why they are called Chucks).
The original waffle iron via blog.oregonlive.com
Back to Nike and waffles. Bill Bowerman was sitting eating breakfast with his wife. His wife recounted the historic moment to an Oregon newspaper:
"As one of the waffles came out, he said, 'You know, by turning it upside down — where the waffle part would come in contact with the track — I think that might work.'
"So he got up from the table and went tearing into his lab and got two cans of whatever it is you pour together to make the urethane, and poured them into the waffle iron."
The result? The Nike (by then the name of the company had changed) Waffle Trainer. Ironically, Bowerman's partner, Knight, hated the new name. He also hated the now iconic swoosh logo. But there was only so much he could do. The art student who created it only asked for $35. Bowerman might have been behind the shoe design, but it was Knight who had the brains to take the company global. He knew signing big names to endorse his shoes was one of the easiest ways to get publicity. That was, as I said earlier, standard practice. What was not standard practice was signing players before they made it big. Knight did not care. He signed a then 21-year old University of North Carolina player by the name of Michael Jordan. He paid him $250,000 for the first year...before he ever played a single NBA game.
Michael Jordan in his iconic pose via deadspin.com
The Jordan-Nike relationship has proven very VERY lucrative. Although, it did cost Nike a pretty penny in unforeseen costs. One of the Nike shoes that Jordan would eventually wear on the court was actually banned by the NBA commissioner because it did not conform to the organization's regulations. Jordan wore them anyway...and Nike had to pay a fine every time he did. I mean they can certainly afford it. The company is now worth close to $16 billion. Not bad for a company that was started out of the trunk of its cofounders car (Knight used to peddle the first Nike shoes from his car...this after getting his MBA from Stanford).
And what about the original waffle maker? After being lost for decades, it was found in the home of one of Bowerman's sons. When they contacted Nike to ask about the possible value so they could sell it, Nike asked why they wanted to do such a thing. To buy equipment for the University of Oregon track team, of course. Nike paid for the equipment and the waffle iron now resides at Nike headquarters.