Before the War on Terror, Iraq, Afghanistan and the first Gulf War; before Vietnam, Korea and the long Cold War, the old world order was dominated by the tyranny of fear of Nazi Germany and the atrocities of catastrophic world war. But within the tumultuous years between WWI and WWII emerged two of today’s most dominant shoe companies: Puma and Adidas. And they each owe their existences to a mere family misunderstanding between broken brothers.
After leaving school, Rudolf Dassler returned home to Herzogenaurach, Germany and began working with his father, Christopher Dassler in Big Dogs shoe factory. But he was soon called to fight in WWI. Returning from the war, Rudolf spent a few years as a factory manager and later, a leather wholesaler.
With the desire to work for himself burning, Rudolf decided to join his brother, Adolf “Adi” Dassler in the shoe-making business. And in 1924, Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers Shoe Company) started in their mother’s laundry in Herzogenaurach.
Losing WWI, the Great Depression and international limitations placed upon the country through the Treaty of Versailles sent Germany into turmoil. So the Dassler Brothers’ start was slow; because of unreliable electricity at the time, the brothers sometimes resorted to pedal power from a modified bicycle to run their equipment. But through deft (and dastardly) political moves, the Dasslers aligned themselves with an invaluable partner, the National Socialist Workers Party. Nazis.
Adolf Hitler took power in 1933, and the brothers soon found their country in the spotlight of the 1936 Summer Olympics. Hearing word of his athletic prowess, the Dasslers set their sights on a controversial African-American runner named Jesse Owens, to whom they gained access through their Nazi affiliation.
So, with a bag full of Dassler running spikes loaded into his car, Adi drove from Bavaria to Berlin to convince the young athlete to wear their shoes. Owens did. And he won, taking home four gold metals for the United States, and skyrocketing the Dassler Brother’s business reputation throughout the world. Leading up to WWII, the Dassler Brothers were selling 200,000 pairs a year.
Though both brothers had joined the Nazi party to keep their business alive–a practice necessary for any German company existing at the time–Rudi’s WWI veteran status deepened his affiliation with the party, which began to drive a spike between the brothers. And by the time the bombs of WWII began falling on their fatherland, a terrible misunderstanding would rip the brothers’ relationship apart.
As the legend goes, Adi’s family had a bomb shelter, Rudolf’s family didn’t. So in 1943, when news of new attacks came, both families had to cram into the dark, small space in order to survive. “The dirty bastards are back again,” said Adi, supposedly in response to hearing the Allied war planes above, as he and his wife climbed into their already packed bunker. But a bitter Rudolf believed Adi was referring to him and his family. And when he was later picked up by an American soldier, accused of being a member of the SS, Rudolf was convinced it was Adi who turned him in.
So in 1948, Rudolf and Adi split their business, with Adi staying on one side of the Aurach river and Rudolf moving his operations to the other side. Both brothers named their companies by combining their first and last names. Adi chose Addas, later settling on Adidas, after realizing ta children’s shoe company was already called Addas. Rudolf began with Ruda, but changed to Puma, supposedly for marketing purposes.
It would be Adi that would make the monumental rise first, after the Adidas sponsored West Germany soccer team beat Hungry in a massive upset at 1954 World Cup. Pictures of Adi and the team, all wearing the signature black boots with white stripes, flooded the news, and Adidas was off and running.
Rudolf’s Puma took much longer to emerge in popularity, but would eventually find itself too at the forefront of the now ubiquitous sneaker market. In 2007, Adidas brought in a revenue of $15.6 billion and owns Reebok; Puma, official knowns as Puma AG, is now under the PPR umbrella, which also owns Gucci, placing the shoe company in the good graces of fashion.
Only one member of the family still works for either company, Rudolf’s grandson, Frank Dassler. His move from head of Puma USA to head of legal affairs at Adidas sent shock-waves through the shoe industry. But the brothers’ styles and innovations remain, and we have to say they both make some pretty dope kicks.
(image sources: Rudolf Dassler-Rediff.com; Adi Dassler-Sad-Blog.com; Shoe-EUKicks.com)