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What Breakfast Item Helped Inspire Nike’s Classic Running Shoes?

Margaret Lipman
Updated May 16, 2024
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You might not think that waffles and elite runners have much in common, but that means you don’t know the origin story of Nike’s distinctively-soled classic trainers.

In the early 1970s, Bill Bowerman, the track and field coach at the University of Oregon, was trying to develop a running shoe that would be good at gripping Hayward Field’s new artificial surface without spikes. Bowerman had founded the sneaker company Blue Ribbon Sports (later renamed Nike) with runner Phil Knight in 1964, and the pair had already made significant advancements to make sneakers lighter and faster. Their innovations included swapping out canvas and leather for nylon and adding a wedged heel.

Surprisingly, however, Bowerman’s best design idea arrived at the kitchen table one morning in 1970 or 1971, as he and his wife, Barbara, were having waffles for breakfast. The waffles gave Bowerman the idea to create a sole with grid-like grooves that could easily grip the artificial track. He poured urethane into the waffle iron and heated it, then continued tinkering with various materials to create a sole that would significantly improve the runner's traction and speed.

Sadly for the waffle iron, which had been a wedding present, Bowerman’s experiments left it completely unusable. However, Nike Waffle trainers were a huge success, first at track meets and then nationwide, paving the way for Bowerman and Knight to expand their small shoe company into the world’s leading sneaker brand, with over $46 billion in revenue in 2022. Proving the enduring appeal of Bowerman’s creation, a variety of shoe styles with waffle soles are still sold by Nike today.

Just do it (with a waffle iron):

  • Nike received a U.S. patent for waffle-soled running shoes in February 1974. Bowerman’s patent application describes the innovation as “an athletic shoe suitable for use on artificial turf … the sole has short multi-sided polygon shaped studs … which provide gripping edges that give greatly improved traction.”

  • Bowerman’s son and daughter-in-law discovered the legendary waffle iron on their property in Fossil, Oregon, in 2011. It is now kept on display at Nike Worldwide Headquarters.

  • Blue Ribbon Sports was originally founded as a distributor of Japanese running shoes. Their first employee, Jeff Johnson, suggested renaming the company "Nike," after the Greek goddess of victory, a change that became official in May 1971.

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Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
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Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
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