History of Adidas


Nike is the undisputed master of hype. Ask any dyed-in-the-wool sneakerhead, and they’ll tell you it’s Nike. But when it comes to the technological arms race among the world’s top sneaker brands, it could be easily argued that Adidas might as well maneuver to overtake Nike.

Adidas is a bit of a scientist. It employs incredibly feather-light materials and mind-bending sole technology in its running shoes, basketball shoes, and other types of athletic footwear. In addition, it partnered with fellow German-based multinational chemical company BASF, and their collaboration gave birth to the famous Boost technology that undoubtedly changed Adidas’ fortunes for the better.

a black and white photo of young Adi Dassler
A young Adi Dassler founder of Adidas

Early history

Urban legend says that “Adidas” (written as “adidas” by the company) stands for “All day I dream about sports,” but it actually gets its name from the founder, Adolf “Adi” Dassler (1900 – 1978).

Adi Dassler seemed to have a natural knack for making footwear, being the son of a cobbler himself. He started making shoes in his mother’s scullery (laundry room) in Herzogenaurach, a town in Bavaria, Germany. 

In 1924, Adi’s older brother Rudolph “Rudi” Dassler joined him, and together they founded a company named Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory. This was where the brothers developed spiked running shoes for several sports events. Spiked shoes at the time were made with honest-to-God pointy metal studs on the soles, which were forged manually (they could have been good for self-defense too, we think).

Soon, the Dassler brothers transitioned from using metal spikes to using canvas and rubber for their shoes. 

The Dassler brothers: from business partners to business rivals

Before World War II, both brothers became members of the Nazi Party. Adi supplied shoes to the Hitler Youth Movement and German athletes to the 1936 Olympics. The American track-and-field star Jesse Owens wore a pair of shoes, reportedly a gift from Adi Dassler, when he won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

It’s also widely believed that Adi employed Russian POWs at his factory during the war since it lacked workers due to the war effort.

The Dassler factory was shut down temporarily during much of World War II. After the war, the brothers sought to re-establish their business. But a bitter falling-out had existed between them since the war, and by 1948 their relationship had become irreparable.

The Dassler brothers, once business partners, became business rivals. So, they split the business in two: Rudi founded what would become Puma, while Adi’s would be Adidas.

a pair of white adidas sneakers

The rise and fall – and the endurance – of Adidas

In the 1950s, Adidas’ business grew steadily as association football (soccer) players switched to Adidas shoes that were lightweight and featured screw-in cleats or studs.

In 1963, Adidas expanded its merchandise by introducing other sporting goods, including soccer footballs. Four years later, it began to sell sports clothes and apparel. Adidas was made official footwear supplier for the 1972 Munich Games.

For many years, Adidas reigned as the top name of athletic footwear, but newer names like Nike increased the competition. Although Adidas is still a solid and well-known brand, like many other businesses, it has faced many challenges. Following Adi Dassler’s death in 1978, the company saw its market shares falling. Then, from 1989 to 1993, the company was acquired by the scandal-tainted French businessman and executive Bernard Tapie, who failed to resurrect it. Afterward, Adidas was sold to investors by Tapie’s friend, another French businessman Robert Louis-Dreyfus, who also became the company’s new CEO.

Under Louis-Dreyfus’ leadership, Adidas was sold to Salomon Group in 1997. Salomon was mainly known for its winter sports products, but it also owned the golf products firm TaylorMade. Following the acquisition, Adidas became Adidas-Salomon AG.

In 2004 Adidas acquired Valley Apparel Company, an American company and a licensed apparel provider to several US college athletic teams. The following year, Adidas acquired erstwhile sneakers rival Reebok, allowing it to compete more directly with Nike in the US and worldwide.

Despite the acquisitions and other deals, Adidas’ headquarters remain in Adi Dassler’s hometown, Herzogenaurach. It also has an ownership stake in German soccer club FC Bayern Munich.

a close-up photo of Boost, in white, in the midsole of Adidas NMD R1 shoe

Adidas’ legacy

Since its founding, Adidas has supplied footwear, apparel, and other sports equipment to athletes and teams playing many types of sport – running, basketball, soccer, golf, cricket, tennis, ice hockey, and many more.

In the sneakers department, Adidas has given us so many classics – the Gazelle, Superstar, Tubular, Campus, and the Stan Smith. 

Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine Adidas without Boost. So, Adidas and BASF partnered to introduce the Boost – a highly elastic foam consisting of tiny granules. These granules blow up like popcorn. In this process, they increase their size tenfold to produce oval foam beads with small gas bubbles inside that make the material very elastic and provide the desired “bouncy” effect. In this way, the wearer gets an energy return – and this is something that no other shoe can offer.

In 2013, Adidas released the Energy Boost running shoe, the first shoe of its kind utilizing the Boost technology. The introduction of the Boost enhanced Adidas’ presence in the footwear market. In addition, the Boost technology made it more appealing to customers, especially runners who were always looking for footwear that would provide them a combination of excellent performance and ultimate comfort.

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