Adidas and Puma – The Story of Adolf and Rudolph Dassler

Adolf (left) and Rudolph (right) Dassler

With the Euro Cup in full swing this week, I figured that it was only right to focus on the world’s game this week.  And while I could have written about this years uniforms, or the best dressed players, or even Cucinelli’s own soccer team, I thought that I should start with arguably the most important of all soccer related brands: Adidas.  When I started reading about the brand I anticipated I would find a straightforward story about a brand who’s best designs are also it’s oldest, but what I actually discovered was a complex story about two brothers, Nazi Germany, and not one, but two of the world’s most well-known sportswear companies.

Adi Dassler in the Adidas Factory

The Adidas group website lists the brand’s founding date as August 18, 1949, yet the real story actually begins over two decades earlier.  In 1924 brothers Rudolph (Rudi) and Adolf (Adi) Dassler were living in the small Bavarian town of Herzogenaurach.  Their father worked in a shoe factory, their mother worked a laundress, and the two brothers had just returned from World War One.  It was within these humble beginnings, that the younger brother Adi started making shoes in the backroom of his mother’s wash house.  Adi was soon joined by Rudi and the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory was born.

Adi Dassler

The Dassler Brothers’ hand-sewn shoes were unlike any other athletic shoe on the market, and they quickly became an integral part of the European sports world.  Just four years after the company was starter their shoes could be seen on the feet of athletes in Amsterdam during the 1928 Olympics, furthering the Dassler’s success.  But their big break came in 1936 when the two brothers drove from Bavaria to Berlin to give Jesse Owens a pair of their shoes.  That year Owens won four gold medals while wearing the Dassler’s shoes and the company was propelled into the national spotlight.

Adi Dassler

Yet life in Germany was changing fast.  The Nazi party was rising to power and naturally the Dassler’s company, as a successful German brand became a part of the party’s propaganda machine.  Both Dassler brothers became members of the Nazi party (a fact that the Adidas and Puma websites clearly avoid) and their company began to change shape in the face of the impending World War.  Around this time the brothers, who had already been suffering through a strong bout of sibling rivalry, began to bitterly turn on each other.  Stories about the brothers range from simple snide comments all the way up to Rudi claiming that Adi reported him to the Allies as a Nazi, but one thing’s for sure, by the mid nineteen forties their relationship had soured entirely.

Adi Dassler

In 1947, Rudi had had enough, leaving the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory to form his own brand, dubbed Ruda, a combination of Rudolph and Dassler, which was soon changed to be Puma, a name that sounded a bit more welcoming.  Which brings us up to August 18, 1949, the official start date for Adidas (which is as you have probably guessed a joining of Adolf and Dassler.)  After the companies split, Adi developed Adidas’ signature three stripe logo.  The stripes would guide the brand over the next few decades as Puma and Adidas competed fiercely for publicity.  Both companies would alternate outfitting teams and players with their shoes in attempts to win over the marketplace.  One year the German national team would wear Adidas, the next year they would wear Puma.  One race a runner would be wearing Puma, and just a few months later he would be running in Adidas.

Rudi Dassler

In the end, it wasn’t so much that Adi won, but more so that Rudi lost.  In the months leading up to the 1954 World Cup, Rudi got into an argument with the German coach, and as a result the German Team was sponsored by Adidas not Puma.  Germany went on to win that World Cup as every player wore black Adidas with the unmistakable three stripes running down the side.  From then on Adi and his shoes were unavoidable, as the brand not only became one of the leading athletic shoe companies in the world, but also crossed over into everyday wear as more and more people began wearing sneakers.

Adidas Samba

Today, both Adidas and Puma are still based in Herzogenaurach, although they are now publicly own companies.  Like a lot of major shoe brands, both company’s recent designs leave much to be desired in my opinion.  While their modern shoes are often over-designed and clunky (case in point the down right horrendous Adidas and Jeremy Scott collaboration) their classic, simpler designs still prevail as some of the world’s all-time greatest sneakers.  Shoes such as the Adidas Samba and the Puma Whirlwind have that clean and functional look that harkens back to the attitude that Adi and Rudi first had way back in the twenties when all they were trying to do was create a better sneaker.

Puma Whirlwind

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7 comments
  1. T.Peezy said:

    I wonder if we would even have these two brands today, had the sibling rivalry between Adi and Rudi not occurred. I wonder what would we have gotten if both of them continued to collaborate? It’s crazy what a little competition does for creativity and motivation. Thanks for the very informative post on two brands that are so prevalent, we sometimes tend to forget where they came from. Very interesting.

  2. BG8531 said:

    ITS A GREAT STORY FOR TWO BRANDS.VERY
    LEARNING AND INTERSTING.

  3. Albert said:

    I lived in Germany for a few years.. My landlady gave me history of Rudolf Dassler…..dating back to 1966……….. How amazing is that?!!.

  4. Jake, loved this story, thanks for the very cool and enlightening history lesson. Will now be checking out your other pieces too.

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