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Historical Find – Original Nike Waffle Iron

March 2, 2011

What’s for Breakfast? Smells Like Teen Sneakers

The original waffle iron that inspired Bill Bowerman to create Nike’s “waffle sole,” thought to be lost, was found in closet in Bowerman’s home in Coburg, Ore. Bowerman, the former Oregon track coach and Nike co-founder.

The original Nike waffle iron, the metal waffle plates are still missing. click image to enlarge

By Rachel Bachman, The Oregonian

As Melissa Bowerman reached deep into a cupboard for a blanket against the night chill, she discovered a box stuffed with mud-caked shoes and a rusty appliance.

She showed the things to her husband, Jon, and his brother, Tom, who had found them buried near the house in Coburg where their father, former Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman,  lived for decades with his wife, Barbara.

Melissa said she could sell the things at auction — she had a good cause in mind — but the two men laughed.

“‘No one’s going to want those,'” Melissa recalled the men saying last spring.

Oh, how wrong they were.

Excitement from the discovery would ripple across the state, from the headquarters near Beaverton of the company Bill co-founded to the tiny town of Fossil hours away where he spent his childhood. In addition to shoes with treads handmade by Bill, Melissa had stumbled upon Nike’s Holy Grail: the long-lost waffle iron that inspired him to craft the revolutionary sole that launched an athletic empire. See full article…

Bill and Barbara Bowerman, Nike Archives

Excerpt from Nike’s History & Heritage site:

Bill Bowerman was a nationally respected track and field coach at the University of Oregon, who was constantly seeking ways to give his athletes a competitive advantage. He experimented with different track surfaces, re-hydration drinks and – most importantly – innovations in running shoes. But the established footwear manufacturers of the 1950s ignored the ideas he tried to offer them, so Bowerman began cobbling shoes for his runners.

This Feb. 21, 2011 photo shows a shoe with a waffle-iron inspired sole unearthed in a rubbish pit on Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman's property, now on display at company headquarters near Beaverton, Ore. (AP Photo/The Oregonian, Rachel Bachman)

Phil Knight was a talented middle-distance runner from Portland, who enrolled at Oregon in the fall of 1955 and competed for Bowerman’s track program. Upon graduating from Oregon, Knight earned his MBA in finance from Stanford University, where he wrote a paper that proposed quality running shoes could be manufactured in Japan that would compete with more established German brands. But his letters to manufacturers in Japan and Asia went unanswered, so Knight took a chance.

He made a cold-call on the Onitsuka Co. in Kobe, Japan, and persuaded the manufacturer of Tiger shoes to make Knight a distributor of Tiger running shoes in the United States. When the first set of sample shoes arrived, Knight sent several pairs to Bowerman, hoping to make a sale. Instead, Bowerman stunned Knight by offering to become his partner, and to provide his footwear design ideas to Tiger.

See earlier Nike Story

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