In 1971 Bill Bowerman was tinkering with the idea of how to make track or football shoes without spikes that could be worn on blacktop or artificial turf but work equally as well on grass or gravel. His eureka moment came one Sunday morning at his home in Oregon when he sat down to a plate of waffles. After breakfast he made a cast of the waffle plates to create soles with protruding nubs that provided traction like a tread on a tire.
At the 1972 Olympic trials in Oregon, Bowerman and his business partner Phil Knight persuaded some of the marathon runners to wear samples of his waffle-soled shoes. Convinced they had a winning style, the two founded their company ‘Nike’ while they refined the waffle sole. In 1974 they launched their track shoes with the ‘swoosh’ trademark onto the market, and by 1979 Nike held a 50% share of the American sneaker market.
The original waffle iron and experimental versions of his shoes were thought to have been thrown away, but in 2010 a rubbish pit was unearthed on Bowerman’s property that contained the original Art Deco 1930s waffle iron, and some of the early shoe prototypes. The original waffle plates that Bowerman had used to cast his sole mold are still missing. However, the unearthed collection was conserved and now resides at Nike headquarters.