Since he first equipped a pair of canvas trainers with spikes in 1920, Adolph “Adi” Dassler, founder of Adidas, developed a reputation for cutting-edge designs and his groundbreaking use of new materials and creative ideas in the pursuit of making the best possible track shoes. His reputation would soon extend to making the best sport-specific shoes for other sports as well.
In 1925, Dassler, a soccer fan, began manufacturing the first pair of cleats for the sport, and in 1931 he developed tennis shoes. By the end of the decade, Dassler was manufacturing 30 different shoes for 11 sports. The company’s first major success came in 1932 at the Olympics in Los Angeles when German runner Arthur Jonath won bronze in the 100m while wearing a pair of Dassler’s shoes. This was the first of many Olympic medals won by athletes in Dassler footwear. In 1936, Jesse Owens famously won four gold medals in Dassler shoes at the Olympics in Berlin. By the time the Olympics returned to Los Angeles in 1984, 124 of the 140 competing nations and a total of 259 medal winners were outfitted in Adidas.
The real turning point that took Adidas from a rising national brand to a worldwide phenomenon came on July 4, 1954. The Hungarian team had a harder time than expected in the World Cup’s final game. The heavily favored Hungarians came into this game on a 32-game winning streak. They previously defeated their opponents, West Germany, 8-3 in the tournament’s first round. On the rain-drenched field at Wankdorf Stadium in Bern, Switzerland, this game began exactly as the odds makers had predicted– Hungary scored two goals within the match’s first eight minutes. The underdogs fought back, however, and by halftime, the Germans had tied the score and revealed their secret weapon– a 53 year-old World War I veteran and baker-turned-shoemaker named Adolph Dassler.
The West German team was wearing Adidas shoes; a fledgling brand of shoe still largely unknown outside of Germany, and Dassler accompanied his shoes to the game. During halftime, Dassler had the Germans attach screw-in spikes to the soles of their shoes to get better traction on the soggy turf. In the second half, the West German team scored again and kept the Hungarians away from the goal for a 3-2 victory. In German football folklore, this upset is known as “The Miracle of Bern,” and in many ways marked the international debut of Adidas, a footwear and athletic apparel company soon to be known for its cutting-edge innovation in both fashion and technology.
As the 20th century progressed, Adidas footwear became a pop culture icon sported by superstars from Muhammad Ali to David Beckham and was name-checked in hit songs by Run DMC and Korn.
Adolph Dassler, holder of 700 footwear design patents and pioneer of athletics-changing features such as spikes and nylon construction died in 1978, but Adidas continues his legacy of innovation. Cutting-edge fashion lines from designer Stella McCartney, technological breakthroughs such as the Adidas 1 line with electronically adjusted dynamic cushioning, recent contracts to provide apparel to NBA players and equipment and footwear to the athletes in the 2008 Beijing Olympics ensure that the Adidas name will have a prominent place in countless sports legends to come.