Sneaker Wars: The Enemy Brothers Who Founded Adidas and Puma and the Family Feud That Forever Changed the Business of Sports

Sneaker Wars: The Enemy Brothers Who Founded Adidas and Puma and the Family Feud That Forever Changed the Business of Sports

by Barbara Smit


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Sneaker Wars is the fascinating true story of the enemy brothers behind Adidas and Puma, two of the biggest global brands of athletic footwear. Adi and Rudi Dassler started their shoe business in their mother's laundry room and achieved almost instantaneous success. But by the end of World War II a vicious feud had torn the Dasslers apart, dividing their company and their family and launching them down separate, often contentious paths. Out of the fires of their animosity, two rival sneaker brands were born, brands that would revolutionize the world of professional sports, sparking astonishing behind-the-scenes deals, fabulous ad campaigns, and multimillion-dollar contracts for pro athletes, from Joe Namath to Muhammad Ali to David Beckham.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061246586
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/17/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 179,111
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 3.80(d)

About the Author

Barbara Smit has written for The Financial Times (London), The International Herald Tribune, The Economist, and Time, among other publications. She lives in France.

Read an Excerpt

Sneaker Wars
The Enemy Brothers Who Founded Adidas and Puma and the Family Feud That Forever Changed the Business of Sports

Chapter One

the dassler boys

Clutching a bulging duffel bag, a short young man walked confidently onto the Berlin Olympic training grounds. Surrounded by hundreds of spectacular athletes from all around the world, Adolf Dassler hardly caught anyone's attention. Yet the little man with the large bag was fully aware that this was his chance to shine.

"Adi" and his elder brother, Rudi, had become established as the men behind Gebrüder Dassler, a Bavarian shoe factory that made some of the country's finest sports shoes. They had persisted with such drive that their factory was drawing sports enthusiasts from all around Germany, generating unprecedented hustle and bustle in their small town of Herzogenaurach, not far from Nuremberg, in the northern part of Bavaria.

Controversial as they were, the Berlin Olympics, opening in the German capital in August 1936, would enable the Dassler brothers to spread their name much farther. It would yield formidable publicity for Gebrüder Dassler to get their spikes on the feet of any prominent athletes—and there was one whom Adi Dassler wanted to catch above all others.

When it was established in the 1920s, the brothers' shoe business put an end to their family's many years in the weaving industry. Their father, Christoph, was the last in a long line of Dassler weavers from Herzogenaurach, known until the end of the nineteenth century as a bustling mill town, employing hundreds of weavers and dyers. Yet the industrial revolution made Christoph'sskills obsolete, prompting him to switch to shoe production.

While the elder Dassler learned tedious stitching methods, his wife, Paulina, complemented her husband's meager earnings by setting up a laundry at the back of their house on Hirtengraben, aided by her daughter, Marie. The clean wash was then delivered around town by her three boys, Fritz, Rudolf, and Adolf, known around town as "the laundry boys."

While the Dassler brothers were still at school, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the word sport barely existed. Yet Adi Dassler, the youngest of the boys, spent most of his spare time inventing games, carving sticks to make javelins, and choosing heavy stones for the shot put. Adi often dragged his best friend, Fritz Zehlein, the son of the town's blacksmith, out on long runs in the forests and meadows that surrounded the medieval town.

This insouciance came to an end in August 1914, when the two eldest Dassler boys, Fritz and Rudolf, were drawn into the war. They were among the thousands of Germans who believed they would be back in a matter of months, but who would spend four long years away from home in the muddy trenches of Flanders. Just months before the end of the war, the seventeen-year-old Adi Dassler, then a baker's apprentice, was called to join his two brothers at the front.

When the Dassler brothers returned to Herzogenaurach unharmed, the three hardened men found their mother's laundry empty. In the postwar misery there weren't many who could afford to have their clothes washed by someone else, and Paulina had given up the business. Adi rapidly made up his mind: he would build up his own small shoe production unit, right there in the former laundering shed.

In the aftermath of the war's savagery, Adi spent many days scouring the countryside picking up all sorts of army utensils left behind by retreating soldiers. He scavenged any debris that could be remotely useful and hauled it back to his workshop. Strips of leather could be cut from army helmets and bread pouches, to be recycled as shoe soles. Torn parachutes and army haversacks were more useful for slippers. To make up for the lack of electricity, Adi came up with an equally clever device: among his early inventions was a leather trimmer affixed to a bicycle frame, which his friends could pedal to get the band turning.

The ingenious young man built up his trade with sturdy shoes that could be expected to last for several years, but he was still most interested in sports. Tinkering away in his shed, Adi came up with some of the earliest spiked shoes—with lethal nails that were forged and then driven through the soles by his friend Fritz.

Three years into the venture, in 1923, Rudolf stepped in. The partnership between the two brothers worked smoothly, even with their contrasting personalities. Not much of a talker, Adi relished the time spent in his workshop, which was permeated with the smell of leather and glue. Rudolf, however, with his loud and extroverted manner, was better equipped to head up the company's sales efforts.

In fact, the Dasslers could hardly have picked a worse time to get their business going. Under the harsh prescriptions of the Versailles Treaty, the war victors had seized most of Germany's resources, leaving little to rebuild the battered country. This caused huge resentment and appalling deprivation, with millions of Germans suffering from unemployment and hunger.

Yet amid this tension and misery, sports and other forms of entertainment began to attract swelling crowds. By the mid-twenties, sports clubs were springing up all around the country, and thousands of supporters thronged shaky soccer stands. The time had come for the Dasslers to launch Adi's inventive sports products on a larger scale. The shift was consecrated on July 1, 1924, with the launch of "Gebrüder Dassler, Sportschuhfabrik, Herzogenaurach."

By sending offers to sports clubs, the Dasslers raked in growing orders. They chiefly sold spikes and soccer boots, which at the time looked much like those of their English forebears—heavy contraptions with leather studs and thick protection for toes and ankles. In 1926, the growth of their company prompted them to leave the former laundry and move into much larger premises, in an empty factory on the other side of the Aurach, the river running through Herzogenaurach.

The breakthrough for the company came when a spluttering motorbike screeched to a halt in front of the Gebrüder Dassler plant. On the saddle sat Josef Waitzer, a lanky man with a crew cut and a neatly clipped moustache. The coach of the German Olympic track-and-field team, he had heard about the spikes made by the sports enthusiasts in Herzogenaurach, and he had driven all the way from Munich to check them out himself.

Sneaker Wars
The Enemy Brothers Who Founded Adidas and Puma and the Family Feud That Forever Changed the Business of Sports
. Copyright © by Barbara Smit. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Bobbito Garcia

“SNEAKER WARS is great for understanding the ins and out of the industry.”

David Maraniss

“First-class piece of investigative reporting... enthralling narrative tale... invaluable contribution to our understanding of shoes, sports, corruption.”

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Sneaker Wars: The Enemy Brothers Who Founded Adidas and Puma and the Family Feud That Forever Changed the Business of Sport 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
jmcilree on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
She lost gas at the end. Too many characters, too thinly sketched, over too long a time period. One of those books I kept hoping would get better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An interesting and in-depth look at a story that not too many fans of the apparel companies know about. A real page-turner that has all the drama of a soap-opera. A very well-researched and entertaining piece of work.