Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Shoes & Trampled Relationships

Do you have a shoe preference? Some people are serious about name brands. Nike, Columbia Sportswear, Adidas, Reebok, New Balance, THE NORTH FACE, Eddie Bauer, Bata, etc., are well-known brands in stores today. Wearing only UnderArmour apparel to the gym makes quite a statement. Recently I have been researching the history of footwear in the 1920s. Below is an intriguing story of two brothers with one similarity: shoemaking.

Adolf (Adi) and Rudolf Dassler were both born in Herzogenaurach, Germany and grew up working in their father's shoe factory. In the 1920s, at the end of WWI, Adi established his own shoe factory and was shortly accompanied by his brother in the business. They began their work in their mother's small laundry, occasionally using the pedal-power of a stationary bike when the town electric was unreliable. In 1936 Adi traveled to the Summer Olympics with a suitcase full of spikes and convinced U.S. athlete Jesse Owens to wear them. Owens did wear them while sprinting and won four gold medals. Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory) was booming. Over 200,000 shoes were sold annually.

Jesse Owens

As Hitler gained power in the start of WWII, Adi and Rudolf joined the Nazi Party. Rudolf, however, was more involved-- a known National Socialist. He was drafted and then captured. Rudolf believed Adi turned him over the American Troops and despised him for it. Meanwhile Adi manufactured boots for Germany's Armed Forces and then left the Nazi party. The brothers' business split. As did the town of Herzogenaurach. Adi renamed his business Adidas, and Rudolf founded his own company, Puma, across the river on the other side of town. Rivalry was fierce. The controversy led to the football teams endorsing one but not the other. Strangers were judged by the brand they wore. Herzogenaurach was nicknamed "the town of bent necks". Repairmen in Rudolf's house were offered a pair of free Pumas because they would deliberately wear Adidas shoes in his home. Shoes were selected in support of preferred politics. In the first German national football game after WWII, many of the West German national team wore Pumas, including Herbert Burdenski, who scored the first post-war goal. During the Summer Olympics of 1952, Puma's first Olympic gold medal was won by Luxembourg's Josy Barthel in Finland. Just eight years later Rudolf Dassler paid German sprinter Armin Hary to wear Pumas in the Olympics final sprint. Armin, who previously wore Adidas requested payment from Adi, who refused. Armin agreed to Rudolf's proposition. Armin completed the race in first place, but changed into his Adidas to receive his medal. Both brothers were astounded and rumors have it that neither companies paid the "world's fastest champion" of the day.

The Dassler brothers never reconciled. Although in the same cemetery, Adi and Rudolf were buried as far apart as possible. Was their bitterness worth it? Isn't it pathetic how hard work and talent are overridden by money and politics in sports today? The most well-paid athletes are royalty. Purchase quality over popularity.

References: Wikipedia/Google

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