The first Nike running shoe began when track coach Bill Bowerman looked at a waffle iron and thought “This could make a better running shoe.”
In 1970 runners were having a hard time adjusting to the University of Oregon’s new urethane track. Metal spikes would rip it up, and the day’s ordinary running shoes provided insufficient traction.
Track coach Bill Bowerman was searching for alternatives that would work equally well on the track and other surfaces. He had already formed a company with former member of his track team Phil Knight to distribute running shoes, but with operating costs soaring and a fraying relationship with their supplier, they agreed that the time had come to make their own shoe.
One Sunday morning in 1971 Bowerman and his wife Barbara were having breakfast together in their kitchen. Bowerman was still fixated on creating a better running shoe and Barbara was making waffles. As she recalled:
“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.”
In that moment, Bowerman realized:
The result—after several ruined waffle irons—was a shoe tread that didn’t tear up the track and gripped every type of running surface.
The first Nike running shoe – Nike’s “Waffle Trainer” – debuted in 1974 and gave the company (wait for it…) the traction to become one of the world’s most successful sports brands.
An excerpt from the book “This Could…” How Two Words Can Create a Better Future.