Bill Bowerman, Nike Shoemaker

There may be no bigger name in track than Bill Bowerman. In 24 years, he trained 31 Olympians, 51 All-Americans, and 12 world record holders. 16 of them ran sub-four-minute miles. He helped create Nike, one of the biggest companies in the world. As Nike’s co-founder, he created the Cortez model shoe and the Waffle Racer, with his own bare hands.

If you read the memoir “Shoe Dog” by Nike founder Phil Knight, you’ll notice his name appearing throughout the book as Knight describes the twists and turns of starting and growing the shoe company. Phil Knight has said without Bowerman; there’s no Phil Knight or Nike.

Bowerman Nike and the First Shoemaker

As a coach, he was one of the best, although he preferred the title of “teacher” rather than “coach.” In the early 1970s, Bowerman was growing frustrated with the flimsy track shoes his runners were wearing. After complaining to various shoe companies to make changes in their design and not seeing a satisfactory response, Bowerman decided to create a track shoe he knew his runners needed.

Bowerman dove headfirst into the art of shoemaking, finding a local cobbler for beginner advice. He became a shoe-making student, spending his spare time and money developing ideas and methods for the perfect track shoe. Years of tinkering and experimenting with shoe design led up to one moment in 1971, where Bowerman pulled out his waffle iron. He proceeded to pour liquid urethane into the waffle iron to create a tread for his running shoe prototype, and the “waffle tread” as born.

Bowerman’s Nike Waffle Spike

His original Nike prototypes have sold for at auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Recently, a pair of handmade Waffle Spike shoes he created exclusively for runner John Mays sold for an estimated $150,000 at a Sothebys auction. With only a few pairs in existence, these shoes signify the beginning of a partnership between co-founders Phil Knight and Bowerman, eventually leading to the creation of one of the world’s largest companies.

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An early creation by Bill Bowerman helped launch the partnership that would eventually be Nike, one of the most powerful brands in the world. Image credit – Sotheby’s
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Bill Bowerman’s earliest design for one of his runners. Image credit – Sotheby’s
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The Bowerman “Waffle Spike” Image credit – Sotheby’s

A shoe must be three things, it must be light, comfortable and it’s got to go the distance.”

-Nike Co-founder, Bill Bowerman

Other Record Nike Sales

The sale at the Sotheby’s auction is one of the highest prices paid for a pair of shoes in history. Topped only by the Mike Waffle Racing Flat known as the “Moon Shoe,” which sold for $437,000, and a pair of autographed Nike Air Jordan shoes from 1985, which sold for $560,000.

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Nike Air Jordan Autographed Sneakers from 1985. Game worn by Michael Jordan, sold at Sotheby’s auction for $560,000. Image credit – Sotheby’s.
One of the most iconic shoes of all-time. In 1984, Nike created a signature line of shoes for Michael Jordan paving the way for how athletes market themselves through sneaker companies.
The builder, Bill Bowerman hard at work creating a shoe that would propel his runners. I would highly recommend Phil Knight’s memoir, “Shoe Dog,” it’s an amazing tale of partnerships, perseverance and vision.