You might be surprised to know that one of the world’s dominant shoes, sports equipment and clothing brands was aptly named after the Greek goddess of victory — and that the inspiration for the name struck during a dream.
It began in 1964 with a casual agreement and a handshake between University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight, a middle-distance runner.
The pair formed Blue Ribbon Sports and began importing Japanese brand Onitsuka Tiger running shoes, known today as ASICs, for sale in the U.S.
In 1967, Knight and Bowerman made the handshake deal formal and incorporated as BRS Inc. Jeff Johnson signed on in 1965 as the company’s first full-time salesperson and opened Blue Ribbon Sports’ first retail outlet the following year.
In 1971, Johnson made an incalculable contribution to the company: One night, he dreamed of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, and suggested the name to his bosses. The company used the moniker for its first footwear product to feature the “Swoosh” mark — a soccer cleat called the Nike, whose name beat out Knight’s suggestion that they call it the Dimension 6.
The Swoosh trademark was created by a graphic-design student from Portland State University named Carolyn Davidson. She got $35 for her creation.
Expanding the Nike Brand
Looking to expand the line, Bowerman began experimenting with the concept of athletic shoes with rubber spikes. By pouring a liquid rubber compound into his wife’s waffle iron, Bowerman created an innovative running-shoe sole. The company unveiled Nike “Moon Shoes” featuring the Waffle sole for athletes competing at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon in 1972. A succession of shoes, many based on the waffle outsole, followed. Some of the most famous are the Waffle Racer, Air Force One and Air Max 97.
When tees featuring a lower-case “nike” script logo designed by Davidson hit stores that year, folks unfamiliar with the name asked, “Who’s Mike?” when they spotted the shirts.
Nike followed up on its footwear fame by dressing athletes from head to toe, introducing apparel collections for tennis and basketball, which were popularized respectively by superstars John McEnroe and Michael Jordan. In 1988, Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan was introduced, and it remains one of the most recognizable and successful commercial taglines. In 1990, the first NikeTown store opened in Portland, Ore. The company signed golfing phenom Tiger Woods in 1996.
In 1999, Bill Bowerman, Nike’s co-founder, died at age 88. The company bought bankrupt rival Converse for $305 million in 2003. In 2004, Phil Knight stepped down as CEO and president of Nike, but he continues as chairman. Headquartered in Beaverton, Ore., Nike remains one of the largest and most successful companies operating today.