Nike’s Waffle Shoes: The Surprising History

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Shoe Dog" by Phil Knight. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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At Nike, one of Phil’s key partners was Bill Bowerman, a star Olympic track coach and Phil’s former running coach from college. Bowerman was the mad scientist of the group, experimenting with new shoe designs and rubber formulations to produce a better running shoe. In one landmark experiment, he squeezed rubber in his wife’s waffle iron, producing the waffle sole.

Learn about the history of Nike’s waffle shoes here.

1971: The Start of Nike

Phil Knight and Sumeragi meet with factories in Japan. They visit a factory called Nippon Rubber, part of Bridgestone Tire. Knight shows them the Cortez in the morning, and after lunch they present a brand-new manufactured Cortez, Nike stripe and all. Confident, Phil describes shoes for a range of sports, including tennis, basketball, and running shoes. Within a few days, he gets samples – they’re not perfect, but they’re very good.

In a late-night creative session, Phil decides to name the shoes – the tennis shoe is Wimbledon. The basketball shoes are Blazer and Bruin. Running shoes are Cortez, Marathon, Obori, Boston, Finland, and Wet-flyte. Finally he feels proud and free, a bona fide creator.

He returns to Portland and meets with Bowerman. They comment that the outer sole of the training shoe hadn’t changed in 50 years – still waves or grooves across bottom. Bowerman thinks about how he created a new track surface out of polyurethane, just like in the Olympics.

Bowerman, inspired, sees his wife’s waffle iron and thinks about the gridded pattern. He takes urethane and melts it, and it seals shut, now useless. He’d forgotten to add releasing agents to the rubber. He keeps trying and eventually succeeds with the help of a rubber company. He sews the insoles to the bottom of running shoes, and it’s a breakthrough.

1976

Luckily, the Nike waffle trainers are more popular than ever. They’re breaking out of athletic uses and becoming an everyday lifestyle shoe, something competitors found hard to do. Sales double again to $14 million.

Nike’s Waffle Shoes: The Surprising History

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  • How Phil Knight started Nike when he was just 24 years old
  • The lawsuit that almost ended Nike
  • The ups and downs of Nike over 20 years of business

Allen Cheng

Allen Cheng is the founder of Shortform. He has a passion for non-fiction books (having read 200+ and counting) and is on a mission to make the world's best ideas more accessible to everyone. He reads broadly, covering a wide range of subjects including finance, management, health, and society. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and attended medical training at the MD/PhD program at Harvard and MIT. Before Shortform, he co-founded PrepScholar, an online education company.

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