It’s 2022. Nike is fresh off of a year in which they posted an annual revenue of $44.5B and is far and away the world’s largest footwear company. The company has introduced to the market sneakers that made it possible to break the 2-hour marathon barrier and sneakers that can be slid on for individuals with musculoskeletal impairing health conditions. They made it possible for us to walk on air and push the boundaries of human capabilities. Heck, Nike has even created shoes that lace themselves. Nike is an innovative powerhouse with any tool imaginable at their disposal to create the next generation of footwear breakthroughs. If you turn back the clock, however, you’ll find that at the beginning of this timeline of innovation lies a tool many of us have in our homes. Nike revolutionized sport for the first time with a simple waffle iron.

Believe it or not, Nike didn’t originally make shoes for basketball, football, golf, or tennis. The Swoosh got its start in Track and Field. Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman, the founders of Nike, were athlete and coach, respectively, on the University of Oregon’s track team. Bowerman, an athletic mind ahead of his time, was always thinking of new ways to push his athletes to reach new heights. His ideas weren’t just for new and unique workouts. Bowerman was obsessed with many aspects of the sport of track and field – the texture of the track, the food and drink that the athletes consumed to recover, but most notably, the shoes. 

Bowerman was somewhat of a mad scientist when it came to shoes. He would experiment with many different materials, treads, and laces just to make the shoes as light and efficient as possible. Bowerman subjected his athletes to testing out shoes he made from materials such as fish skin, kangaroo leather, and even velvet. One of Bowerman’s greatest challenges was creating a shoe that could be used to allow athletes to have significant traction on any running surface. One day, when his wife, Barbara, was making waffles, inspiration struck. Barbara told the Oregonian, “As one of the waffles came out, he said, ‘You know, by turning it upside down — where the waffle part would come in contact with the track — I think that might work.’ So he got up from the table and went tearing into his lab and got two cans of whatever it is you pour together to make the urethane, and poured them into the waffle iron.” Fast forward a few years and Bowerman’s waffle shoes were one of Nike’s core silhouettes, were selling out across the country, and were protected under United States Patent number 3,793,750.

Many Nike and sneaker enthusiasts see an original pair of Waffle Racers as a grail and spend large amounts to have a pair in their collection. In 2019, an original 1972 Nike Waffle Racer Running Flat, dubbed the ‘Moon Shoe’, sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $437,500 to collector Miles Nadal. In a statement, Nadal noted that he plans to display the shoes in his private museum alongside his collection of classic cars. Being that the shoes sold were created for runners in the 1972 Olympic Trials, there is a distinct possibility that the pair could have been made specifically by Bowerman for legendary runner and Nike athlete/ employee Steve Prefontaine.

To this day, the Nike Waffle Racer remains an important part of the Nike brand. The silhouette re-releases frequently and tends to sell out. The Waffle Racer also serves as a base for some iconic collaborations including the Nike x Off-White Waffle Racer and the Nike x Sacai LD Waffle. The Waffle technology has also appeared on numerous other Nike silhouettes since its inception. Waffle grip can be seen on the also famous Nike Tailwind, the Nike Astro Grabber, and the Nike Elite. 

Knowing the history of this legendary silhouette, do you plan on adding a pair to your collection? Do you already own a pair of Nikes with the iconic waffle tread? Let us know below.

Images Courtesy of Sotheby's