• Robert Smith

How a Sunday Breakfast Inspired the Famous Nike® Sole

For its first eight years, Nike® was just another athletic shoe company. That changed one Sunday morning in 1972, when Bill Bowerman and his wife Barbara were making waffles.

Bowerman was a University of Oregon coach when he and Phil Knight, a former track star, joined forces in 1964. With $1,000 and a handshake, they started Blue Ribbon Sports, dedicating themselves to finding and selling better running shoes.

At first, they did just that -- sourcing shoes from Japanese manufacturers and selling them at track meets from the back of Bowerman’s car. Then they began making shoes of their own, applying science to footwear design. A raft of innovations followed, but the very first was born in Bowerman’s kitchen in 1972.

That year, Oregon resurfaced its Hayward Field track with urethane, and Bowerman was experimenting with new shoe soles. He thought if he could make a sole with just the right pattern, it might grip the track better.

Inspiration struck one Sunday morning when he noticed the waffles coming out of his wife’s 1930s waffle iron. It created a pattern of nubs that protruded from the waffles like tire treads.

“I think that might work,” said Bowerman.

And right then and there, he grabbed the appliance, ran out to his shop, and poured liquid urethane into the waffle iron. The result was the first "waffle sole” -- a design he refined as the Waffle Trainer in 1974.

A parade of innovations followed, including wedged heels, cushioned mid-soles and nylon uppers. And Nike became a powerhouse in athletic apparel.

By the time Bowerman died in 1999, Nike was on the road to being a $20 billion company. But much of the creativity that fueled its growth began that Sunday morning in Bowerman’s kitchen

Bill Bowerman of Nike exemplifies an axiom featured on our website thinkofthat.net. Solve a problem in your profession. He looked everywhere for ways to improve running shoes, and found the answer in a waffle iron. Now Why Didn’t I Think of That?

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