Ever since KICKS 3 (summer 2000), each issue of the annual sneaker mag—KICKS 10 not included—has contained two or three new inductions into the KICKS Hall of Fame, where footwear legends past and present are honored. This may not be fresh material for those of you who’ve been copping the mag since before the new millennium hit, but for the younger heads, we’re posting the entire HOF online over the course of the next few weeks. (It’ll be archived under the KICKS tab above.) Enjoy, and don’t forget: KICKS 14 is on sale now! —Ed.
If it seems like adidas has been around forever, that’s because, basically, it has. From famous styles such as the Rod Lavers and Sambas to less popular but still classic models like the Americanas and Forums, adidas has long stood at the forefront of the world’s athletic footwear market. Yet few know the early history of the company, the roots of which reach back to 1920 and a man named Adolf “Adi” Dassler.
Hailing from the small German town of Herzogenaurach, Dassler started out as a baker. As luck would have it, he came across the remnants of military materials used by the German army after World War I. With the army in disarray, large quantities of supplies were scattered about the countryside. With this at his disposal, Adi and his brother Rudolf had an idea to create athletic shoes.
Although not an athlete himself, Adi was enamored by the competitive spirit athletics provided. He saw that adjustments in the products they used could enhance their abilities. The shoes they would wear would be his contribution to sport. There was no electricity available early on, so the machines used to cut and trim the leather into useable parts were powered by bicycles. The shoes themselves were made by hand.
By 1924, the company—now officially known as Dassler Brothers OHG—had grown to a staff of 25 people, with a production of 100 pairs of shoes per day. Working closely with athletes, Dassler was able to discern exactly what they needed to perform at their best. Among his early breakthroughs were track shoes with forged spikes and soccer boots with screw-in studs (and as proof of adidas’ ever-evolving technology, to date over 700 patents have been issued to the brand.) By the 1928 Olympics, word had spread far enough that many of the athletes invited to Amsterdam competed in his shoes, and the legendary Jesse Owens immortalized the shoes in the ’36 Games in Berlin, breaking numerous world records en route to winning four gold medals.
Personal problems caused the Dassler brothers to split and dissolve the original company in 1948—at which point Adi renamed the brand adidas, a play on his first and last names. Rudolf, meanwhile, would go on to success in his own right, creating rival Puma. But with adidas, Adi began to think of ways to personalize the brand, and shortly thereafter officially trademarked the “three-stripes” logo—a design originally developed as a practical way to stabilize the mid. The company continued to expand into different sports, including its first basketball shoes, the Hi-Cut. Eventually, adidas would become a major player in basketball, when its Americana essentially became the official shoe of the ABA. The company’s lineage in outfitting great basketball players would go on to include Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, Patrick Ewing, Kobe Bryant and the popular T-Mac brand. They also had (and continue to have) massive success in soccer, evidenced by the fact that nearly 80 percent of the players in the ’74 World Cup wore “boots” by adidas.
Yet it’s still in the Olympics that adidas can truly stake its claim. By the ’60 Games, 75 percent of the track & field competitors wore adidas, including Wilma Rudolph as she won three golds in Rome. Every Olympic Games since has been stamped by a major adidas influence, and in recognition of that worldwide appeal, in 1972 the “Trefoil” logo was introduced. The three leaves symbolize the Olympic spirit linking to the continental plates. It was designed to look like a three-dimensional globe made one-dimensional.
Adi Dassler stayed involved with the direction of the company until he died in 1978. At the time, adidas was producing 45 million pairs of shoes a year. Dassler left the company to his widow, and it was eventually passed on to his son. It remained family owned until 1990; a succession of individual owners and business partnerships have run the company since, steering it through a down period in the early ’90s to a return to global prominence over the past decade.
While no longer under the direction of the Dassler family, the company is in great shape. Many of the original models are as popular today as they’ve ever been. Updated with different colors and tweaked for modern tastes, many adidas shoes remain hugely popular in urban centers like New York and Tokyo. Several retail stores dedicated solely to adidas Originals products can be found around the world, thus satisfying athletes and fans of a new generation. Adi Dassler’s legacy is strong.