The Untold Story of Adolf Dassler’s Creative Legacy

Dive into the inspiring journey of Adolf Dassler’s creative legacy. Explore the untold story that shaped the legacy. Adidas, a German sports company with 60,000 employees worldwide and annual revenues of approximately €23 billion, was founded by Bavarian native Adolf Dassler. The company’s success has been attributed to Dassler’s imaginative and enthusiastic approach to sports shoes. Despite facing financial challenges, Adidas has achieved global fame, demonstrating the importance of creativity and passion for the sport.

Before we dive into Adolf’s early life, let’s take a look at how Adidas created a symphony of style and affordability across everything from luxury to everyday lifestyle to athletic fashion…

What is Adidas’ differentiation strategy?

Adidas’ corporate strategy focuses on innovation to create new goods, services, and processes to remain competitive.

Adidas positions itself as a premium brand, employing a strategic pricing model that reflects its commitment to excellence and groundbreaking designs. The brand has successfully carved a niche for itself by consistently delivering products known for its superior quality and innovative features. This premium pricing approach not only underscores Adidas’ dedication to top-tier craftsmanship but also solidifies its image as a preferred choice for those seeking a sophisticated and high-end athletic wear experience.

Despite its emphasis on luxury, Adidas recognizes the diverse preferences of its consumer base. To cater to a broader audience, the brand offers more budget-friendly options through its sub-brands including Adidas Originals and Reebok. This diversification allows Adidas to maintain its reputation for exclusivity while ensuring accessibility to a wide range of customers. By doing so, the company strikes a balance between prestige and affordability, strengthening its presence in both high-end and mass-market segments of the athletic apparel industry.

Adolf Dassler’s early life

Adolf Dassler, born in 1900 in Herzogenaurach, Germany, was the second of four siblings. His mother, Pauline, managed the family laundry, while his father, Christophe, worked as a tailor. After high school, Adolph initially pursued a baker’s apprenticeship but turned his attention to specializing in shoemaking.

While engaging in various sports such as football, ice hockey, and ski jumping with childhood friend Fritz Jaehlin, a local blacksmith, Adolf noticed that each athlete wore identical shoes. This realization sparked his understanding of the importance of shoes in the game. Jahlin’s success in various sports further emphasizes the importance of appropriate athletic shoes.

Adolf realized that if shoes could be made specifically to meet the demands of an individual sport there would be a significant benefit to the wearer.

The concept was intended to serve as the cornerstone of his upcoming business, Adidas.

Adolf Dassler’s war-torn dream

Drafted into the German army during World War I, Adolf Dassler aspired to establish a sports shoe company. Upon returning to Herzogenaurach in 1919, Germany faced a financial crisis. Despite the economic downturn, Dassler converted an abandoned laundry shed into a shoe workshop, using his shoemaking expertise to repair the shoes of local residents.

Adolf’s childhood friend Fritz Jaehlin played an important role in designing special athletic shoes for field athletes. Jehlin’s innovative running shoes, featuring carefully hand-crafted metal spikes, not only revolutionized the sport but also underlined the importance of investing time and resources in athletics.

Adolf Dassler’s bicycle-powered shoe innovation

Adolf’s inventiveness in shoe design and production techniques was perfectly matched. To overcome the problems caused by unstable power supplies, he attached a leather milling machine to the bicycle that the company’s first employee rode.

In Herzogenaurach, the Dassler Brothers sports shoe factory was founded in 1924 by Adolf Dassler and his brother Rudolf. 

By 1925, the company employed three people and made spiked track shoes and leather football boots. The brothers moved to a larger building in Herzogenaurach, expanded their production, and purchased new machinery when the German economy strengthened.

How the Dassler Brothers Changed Olympic Athletics

The Dassler brothers, Adolf and Lena Radke, were instrumental in the product’s success at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. They thought that by providing shoes to players they could improve their performance and validate the efficacy of their equipment. The first woman to compete in the Olympic Games was German distance runner Lena Radke, who set a world record in the 800-meter event.

The unique needs of the athletes Adolph worked with served as the inspiration for the cutting-edge technology of his sports shoes. To ensure the products were the best they could be, they incorporated testing and feedback into the creative process.

To guarantee that many German athletes would compete in the Olympics using Dassler shoes, Dassler partnered with the German National Track and Field Team. The lack of professional athlete sponsorship at the time served as inspiration for this marketing strategy, providing practical insight for product development.

After seeing the success of German athletes at the (1932) Los Angeles Games, they decided to take the concept to a global level for the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

How Adolf Dassler and Jesse Owens made history

Black American athlete Adolf Dassler became friends with Jesse Owens, another black American athlete. Adolf gives Jesse some ‘Dassler Brothers sneakers to wear after he loses his track shoes at the Berlin Games. According to legend, Jesse wore these shoes when he took home four gold medals. Jesse continued to communicate with Adolf and later joined Adidas as an ambassador.

An American company J.C. Owens was involved in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, During the war effort, American troops destroyed factories that were affiliated with the Nazi authority. The factory owned by the Dassler brothers, which was ordered to produce parts for weapons, was saved from demolition. The connection between Jesse Owens and the 1936 Berlin Olympics played a significant role in the fate of the factory.

Adolf and Kathe Dassler’s journey beyond shoemaking

In 1932, expert shoemaker Adolf Dassler began a love story with Kathe that turned into a lifelong commitment, sealed by marriage in 1934. This union resulted in a large family, consisting of five children. The success of Adolf’s business in the 1930s can partly be attributed to the valuable insights of the famous finalist, master craftsman Franz Martz. After Cathay’s move to Herzogenaurach, Horst Dassler, together with Cathay, continued to guide Adidas to lasting prosperity, maintaining the family’s legacy of achievement.

Adolf Dassler and the Nazis: A tumultuous chapter in shoe history

Adolf Dassler joined the National Socialist Party in 1933 and, along with his brothers Adolf and Rudolf, remained a member until the conclusion of the war in 1945. Adolf’s involvement guaranteed commercial success, not because of personal commitment, but because of agreement with the new leadership.

But the future of the Dassler Brothers sports shoe factory became doubtful as the Nazi Party set out on the path to war.

Adolf Dassler, an important member of the Dassler family, started out with a small sports shoe business but struggled to recruit staff and supplies. He was drafted into the German Army in 1940 and received radio operator training in Zirndorf. Due to his considerable skills, he was eventually discharged in 1941, despite the controversial call-up.

Tension arose between Adolf and Rudolf over their different perspectives on how to survive World War II, which disrupted the firm. They intended to separate in 1941, but the war prevented this. When Rudolf Dassler was drafted into the German army in 1943, family and business relations became even more strained, leaving Adolf alone to oversee the firm.

When the Nazis declared “total war” in 1943, well-known sports shoe magnate Adolf Dassler was forced to turn over supplies to the Nuremberg company Schricker & Co. Employees were retrained, factory equipment owned by the Dassler brothers was replaced, and shoe production gradually ceased. Evidence shows that Adolph attempted to simultaneously make and repair a few pairs of shoes, even though the plant continued to produce parts for Schricker & Co. until the conclusion of the war.

The Dassler Brothers and Germany’s Challenges after World War II

Decolonization occurred in Germany after World War II, affecting large numbers of German citizens. Even though the Dassler brothers’ factory was spared destruction, the family remained part of the denazification process.

Jewish businessman Adolf Dassler faced difficulties when attempting to restart his athletic shoe company after being classified as a “lesser criminal”. He was supervised by a trustee, but he was able to prove his innocence from the evidence of local people, workers, and a Jewish acquaintance in Herzogenaurach. After some time, his party’s designation was changed to “Followers”, giving him back ownership of the business.

From Brotherhood to Business Rivals: The Adidas-Puma Split

Between Adolf and Rudolf Dassler, the tensions of the war and the years that followed led to an irreversible split. In 1948, they formally divided their business. They formally split their businesses, separating the assets and giving rise to a corporate rivalry.

They divested the company’s assets and became rivals in the corporate world. Rudolph founded his own athletic footwear business, which later changed its name to Puma. Herzogenaurach remains home to the global headquarters of both Puma and Adidas.

Creation of the company ‘Adidas’

German industrialist Adolf Dassler faced difficulties in the years following World War II as a result of the country’s weak economy. His inventiveness and entrepreneurial spirit were invaluable. He contacted US military officials and obtained reclaimed objects from their residences. Without leather, they made shoes from rubber rafts, tent canvas, and liners from airplane fuel tanks.

Adolf experimented with decorative straps on the side of his shoes in an effort to give his items a unique look. The ‘three stripes brand’ trademark was created by them when they ultimately decided to use three of these stripes instead of the original plan of using two or three. He started using this trademark in 1949.

Adolf, whose surname was Adi, did not change his name completely; Instead, he simply wrote a handwritten “i” on the printed form. Hence, Adidas came into existence. Adolf Dassler “Adidas” Sportschuhfabrik was the initial name of the company when it was registered on August 18, 1949.

Adi Dassler’s Game-Changing Vision

Under the direction of West German industrialist Adolf (Adi) Dassler and his wife Kathe, Adidas experienced a decade of expansion and prosperity. As the West German economy recovered from the devastation of the war, Adi and Cathay established a prosperous business partnership. With Cathay’s flexibility and cultural awareness, Adi was able to focus on its core business, which involved developing innovative performance shoes in collaboration with athletes.

Dedicated to taking notes, Adolf researched athletes’ movements to develop cutting-edge Adidas footwear. He worked with players who lacked specialized shoes for their sport because he was an avid sports fan. His creative innovations revolutionized the way millions of athletes around the world compete, showing how sports can be transmitted and shaped by the participants themselves.

The Miracle of Bern: How Adi Dassler’s clever design led Germany to victory

One of Adolf’s continuing hobbies was innovating and improving the design of football boots, often known as football cleats. Due to his knowledge in this field, he often advised the West German national football team. This collaboration resulted in one of the most famous moments in the history of German football and Adidas.

In Switzerland, 1954 World Cup favorites West Germany took on the Hungarian national team. Despite an 8–3 defeat in the group stage, West Germany’s remarkable knockout performance in the knockout round earned them a ticket to the final, which was held in Bern.

The people of West Germany who wore Adidas shoes got a secret benefit. Importantly, they featured replaceable screw-in studs that could be adjusted to suit the season, and they weighed half as much as the Hungarians’ traditional English-made shoes.

The Hungarian team faced a difficult match a day before the World Cup final, due to rain and poor pitch conditions at the Wankdorf Stadium. Adi suggested that the West Germans switch to longer studs because they were more agile and had better grip than the Hungarians.

A 3–2 victory over the West German team in 1954, dubbed the “Miracle of Bern”, served as the impetus for Adidas’ rise to fame in Germany. The 1954 World Cup Finals – the first to be shown on television – brought Adidas products to a global audience, and German coach Sepp Herberger openly praised the company’s goods for his success.

The legacy of Adidas: how Adidas became a global sports shoe giant in the 1960s

In the 1960s Adidas was the world’s largest sports shoe manufacturer with over 500 employees. Despite his advancing years and the company’s success, Adolf Dassler continued to innovate and create Adidas shoes that were lighter, more comfortable and met the needs of athletes.

The concept of a shoe that could protect players from fungal foot infections in the locker room came to Adolf’s mind in 1963 while he was working with the German national football team. The result was the Adilette, a much-loved casual shoe today. He designed the first track and field warm-up attire in 1967, giving rise to a new era of tracksuits and athletic wear.

Horst Dassler, son of Adolf Dassler, born in the 1960s, rose to fame as a prominent industry executive. He helped Adidas expand into the US and saw potential in emerging sports. Horst brought Adolph’s inventive energy to the design of basketball shoes, creating the iconic Superstar line of streetwear. Adolf and Käthe remained married until her death in 1978.

His creations influenced the lives of athletes everywhere and served as the inspiration for the emergence of the billion-dollar global sports shoe market. Yet, despite his money and success, Adi maintained his humility, going back to his favorite place of relaxation, the company of athletes, to consider how his products could enhance performance.

Learning lesson

“Creating a Sustainable World: Adidas’ Resolve to Make a Global Impact”

Adidas’ mission statement is, “We have the power to change lives through sport.” “We will always strive to expand the range of human possibilities to engage and unite people in sport and create a more sustainable world,” the statement said.

Failures kept to ourselves prevent others from moving forward and making the same mistakes. Since brands and scientists are in a competitive industry, there is a tendency to hide failures from each other. At a time when advertising effectiveness may need some help, this hurts the entire business.

“Growth is determined by penetration”

The aim of this blog under Finn Stories, is to share inspiring stories of businesses that have not only changed the world but also generated wealth for themselves and those who believe in their extraordinary ideas. The key takeaway here is to visualize your idea, materialize it, believe in it, and see the world not only accept but also believe in your vision.

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