Nike! I love their shoes, dig their commercials and can’t imagine a world where they’re not the best athletic gear company around. But it wasn’t always like this. They were once the underdog, searching to push the envelope and hoping to find a way to innovate shoes. Nike found their inspiration in the unlikeliest of places: a waffle maker.
The story goes something like this: the University of Oregon just switched their track to an artificial surface and Nike wanted to make a sole without metal spikes that could still grip the new material. Bill Bowerman, the mad scientist behind Nike, was having waffles for breakfast with his wife when he had a Eureka moment.
His wife says:
“As one of the waffles came out, [Bill]said, ‘You know, by turning it upside down — where the waffle part would come in contact with the track — I think that might work. So he got up from the table and went tearing into his lab and got two cans of whatever it is you pour together to make the urethane, and poured them into the waffle iron.”
That unlikely innovation of using a waffle tread for their shoes spawned Nike’s 1974 Waffle Trainer which catapulted the company into what it is today. But! That waffle iron, the holy grail for Nike, had long disappeared. Bowerman said he had thrown it away and it wasn’t until recently that it was found by Bill’s daughter, buried underneath the ground in a box. Nike said this about the discovery:
“It truly is the headwaters of our innovation,” Nike historian Scott Reames said. “From a historian’s standpoint, it’s like finding the Titanic.”