Adidas & Puma - Two Brothers, Two Businesses, One Story.

Foundation & Incoporation

The tale begins in 1920 when brothers Adolf (Adi) Dassler began selling custom-made sports footwear from his mother's laundry room in 1920. His brother Rudolf then joined the operation in 1924, creating the Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory). Rudi was the slick-talking, calculated businessman, whereas Adi was the shy, reserved design enthusiast. Their polarised characters were somewhat the perfect recipe for success in the sportswear industry.

Growing a Business in Nazi Germany

Despite joining the Nazi party in 1933 when Hitler won the election, the Dassler twins sponsored African-American athlete Jesse Owens in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where he won 4 gold medals, surging the awareness of the Dassler Brothers Sports Shoe Co sky high. Two of these gold medals were achieved wearing the spiked, calf leather shoes pictured below. Spiked trainers were Adi Dassler’s invention, who commissioned his blacksmith brother ‘Zehlein’ to craft the spikes. This was a development that changed track events forever, granting athletes unrivalled propulsion.

The Dassler brothers had always argued over business, however, their infamous hatred of one another didn’t begin until the Second World War. Adi served in 1939 on the Western Front for a year, before being assigned the duty of manufacturing boots for the German army. In 1943 the tensions between the brothers peaked. During an air raid from the Allied Forces, Rudi and his family entered a bomb shelter Adi was already in, when Adi exhaled “the dirty bastards are here again” A statement which Adi claimed was about the bombers, but Rudi took to be about his family.

Rudi, on the other hand was drafted to fight in 1943 until he was captured by the German Gestapo (secret police) in 1945 for trying to leave the forces. He was allegedly freed from the Gestapo by US troops, until he was captured by the US again under suspicion of being a member of the SS which Adi Dassler is thought to have suggested.

The Big Split

An ongoing chain of incidents similar to the air shelter story led to the eventual decision to split the company in 1948. Adolf took the first three letters of his nickname (Adi) and the first three letters of his family name (Das), resulting in the formation of ‘Adidas’. Rudolf initially called his brand ‘Ruda’ before soon changing to ‘Puma’, a smart move for international business as ‘Puma’ means the same thing in almost all European languages and conveys speed, power and elegance. The brothers divided staff, land, equipment and finances down the middle, building two rival factories on either side of the river in their home town of Herzogenaurach. As the companies grew financially, their influence on the town followed. A Montague-Capulet situation soon took hold of Herzogenaurach where people couldn’t marry, date or befriend those from opposing sides of the city. Certain businesses refused to serve those wearing the rival pair of trainers or sell their products. It became known as “The Town of Bent Necks” for this very reason. Initially, Puma became known as ‘quantity’ and Adidas was ‘quality’. Adidas were thought to be better designed and preferred by athletes, whereas Puma sold in higher volumes at a lower price and had a supposedly superior sales team and manufacturing process.

Brand Development

Twenty years ahead however, Adidas had gone global, nearly all professional football teams wore their boots and shirts, their football became used at every world cup and tennis icon Stan Smith sported all white leather Adidas trainers as he raised the Wimbledon trophy. Puma was falling behind up until the 1970s when they released the legendary ‘Puma King’ football boots, which dominated the decade to come with greats such as Pele, Maradona and Cruyff sporting the minimalist cleats through Ballon D’or, World Cup and Golden Boot winning campaigns. It wasn’t until the death of Rudi Dassler when his son Armin took over that Puma truly began to thrive, resulting in the creation of the worldwide brand we know today.

Today, the Dassler brothers are buried at opposite ends of a cemetery in their hometown. The companies settled their grudge in 2009 with a friendly football game, with both teams composed of a mix of Adidas and Puma employees.

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