For over fifty years, Nike has been one of the best-known and most respected footwear companies of all time, specializing in sports and running shoes. But, like most companies, they started small.
In 1964, Nike was founded by track-and-field athlete Phillip Knight, looking for a way to earn a living. The business, originally known as Blue Ribbon Sports, got their start selling Tiger running shoes, imported from the Onitsuka company in Japan. They made most of their sales out of their car after track meets. He was soon joined in this venture by his track coach, Bill Bowerman, who was looking for higher quality track shoes for his athletes.
The Tigers sold quickly, and the company burgeoned, soon hiring full-time employees and opening their first location. By 1971, Blue Ribbon Sports had made over a million dollars, and was ready to move out on its own. Their first original shoe was dubbed the Nike, named after the Greek goddess of victory. It was also the first to feature Nike’s famous trademark “swoosh,” designed by Carolyn Davidson. Interestingly enough, Knight didn’t originally care for the symbol, saying, “I don’t love it, but it will grow on me.”
Nike’s first self-designed shoe was the waffle-soled Moon shoe, debuting in 1972. While looking for a new sole that would get better grip on urethane tracks, Bowerman found inspiration in the household waffle iron, and used it to mold the first sole. Other early innovations by Nike included a nylon-topped running shoe, and a cushioned midsole that covered the whole length of the shoe.
By 1978, Blue Ribbon Sports officially changed it’s company name to Nike, and sales were booming. Sales reached 270 million dollars, and had fully half of the running and sports shoe market in the US by 1980, going public the same year. Nike aggressively pushed their image, especially seeking to increase their visibility by having famous and upcoming athletes wear Nikes shoes.
Nike’s success can also be partly attributed to the running, jogging and fitness craze that swept the nation. By the time these activities began to decline in popularity, the company was already spreading to other areas such as basketball, though their running shoes remained popular. The famous air cushioning device also made it’s debut around this time.
In 1983, the company met declines, and was forced to make structuring changes and layoffs over the next few years. In 1985, Nike launched it’s Air Jordans line with legend Michael Jordan endorsing. Over the next few years, it was the innovate Air series that saw Nike pull through. Nike continued its domination well through the ’90’s, cementing its place in the business.