Rudolf and Adi Dassler learned at an early age the enormous impact that gold medals had on their shoe business.
When U.S. sprinter Jesse OwensÂ got to Germany for Berlin’s 1936 Olympics, Adi Dassler drove from Bavaria on one of the world’s first motorways to the Olympic village. There he found Owens, unpacked a suitcase filled with spikes and persuaded him to try them. Owens won four gold medals in Dassler shoes.
“Owens’s success cemented the good reputation of Dassler shoes among the world’s most famous sportsmen,” Smit writes. “Letters from around the world landed on the brothers’ desks, and the trainers of other national teams were all interested in their shoes.”
Business boomed and the Dasslers were selling 200,000 pairs of shoes each year before World War Two.
The war exacerbated tensions between the two brothers and their wives. Although both Dasslers joined the Nazi party and signed their letters with a “Heil Hitler” salutation, Rudolf was a more devoted Nazi.
The origins of the split between Rudolf and Adi are hard to pinpoint but an Allied bomb attack on Herzogenaurach in 1943 illustrated the growing tension. Adi and his wife climbed into a bomb shelter that Rudolf and his family were already in.
“The dirty bastards are back again,” Adi said, apparently referring to the Allied war planes. Rudolf was convinced his brother meant him and his family. The damage was never repaired.
In 1948, the brothers split their business. Adolf called his firm ‘Adidas’; Rudolf called his ‘Ruda’ before changing to ‘Puma’.