The 7 best questions about the waffle iron that made the first Nike shoe

Nike Waffle Iron


It’s one of the most intriguing corporate legends: University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman made one of the first Nike shoes using his at home waffle iron. That waffle iron is a piece of history now, which is why we’re answering the top seven questions about it.

The basics

Q: They used a waffle iron to make shoes?

The story goes that Bowerman was sitting at the breakfast table one morning and inspiration struck. According to an interview with his daughter-in-law, Bowerman was inspired by a waffle iron and used it to help make shoes.

Q: Shouldn’t the soles be shaped like a waffle, not a waffle iron?

As the Smithsonian notes, rubber in a waffle-iron would yield a waffle shaped sole instead of the sole Bowerman came up with. There are a few possibilities: Bowerman used the waffle iron to make a mold for a second set of waffle-iron shaped soles, or he simply used the waffle iron as inspiration. Most sources believe he used the waffle iron to make molds.

In any case, the iron was destroyed during his experiments.

Q: Nike sold waffle shoes?

Not always. The company started as an importer of Japanese shoes (Bowerman and Phil Knight are the cofounders). Only later did Nike shift to creating all its own shoes.

However, once Bowerman invented the waffle sole, the new technique took off.

The iron

Q: What happened to the iron?

For a company as brand conscious as Nike, it’s surprising to learn the waffle iron was discarded. It was actually buried in the Bowerman back yard in a rubbish pit (it’s unknown why they used a pit instead of taking it to the dump).

Q: How did they find it?

In 2011, the family was building a new shop and dug up the foundation. There, the waffle iron was revealed.

Q: Was the iron anything special?

The iron was from the 1930s and had art deco details that helped it stay recognizable even after being buried.

Q: Where is the iron now?

The Bowermans traded it to Nike for some track and field funding, so the company is in possession of the historic iron. The proceeds were used to pay for a pole vault pit.

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