Last year, Nike reported a fiscal revenue of $32.4 billion, representing 6 percent growth from 2015, and as of May 2016 Forbes ranked the brand with the Swoosh as the 18th biggest on the planet.These impressive stats belie Nike’s humble origins as a quiet initiative undertaken at the University of Oregon by running coach Bill Bowerman and pupil Phil Knight. Today it’s a story that is thoroughly embedded in sneaker folklore, but Nike’s first pair of running shoes may never have taken form if not for one particular breakfast food.In the early 1970s, Oregon’s Hayward Field, where Bill worked for years, was transitioning from a crushed cinder track to an artificial surface, and Bowerman was searching for a running shoe solution that would be suitable for multiple surfaces.
The origins of the Oregon Waffle, afterwards named the Waffle Trainer, derive from Bowerman’s experiments with a simple waffle iron, the grooves of which proved to be a near perfect mold for a running shoe. Now protected under United States patent #3,793,750, Bill’s idea was essentially a track spike without the spikes. As Bill’s wife Barbara told The Oregonian years later:“As one of the waffles came out, he 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.”
Bill was constantly working to change and redefine the status quo in running equipment, and his eureka moment created the Waffle Trainer, successfully marketed and released in 1973. Both responsive and able to accommodate an uneven running surface, the shoe also helped champion the idea that not only could the midsole absorb shock, but the outsole as well.Before it, many athletics soles were flat and lower to the ground, yet the waffle-inspired sole had small bulbs that protruded out for extra grip and rebound. This was the first major innovation from a company that has gone on to revolutionize the sneaker industry with advents like Visible Air, Flyknit, Lunarlon and more.