A History of PUMA Shaping the Sneaker Industry

Sibling rivalry can be a funny thing. A squabble over a toy, needling comment, or sometimes practically nothing at all can spark a huge back and forth conflict that can last hours, or even days. There’s no real logic to any of it, but fortunately it usually doesn’t take long for everything to return to normal.

The Dasslers are clearly the exception.

After German brothers Adolf and Rudolf Dassler built a highly-successful shoe company—thanks in no small part to American sprinter Jesse Owens, who won gold in their shoes at the 1936 Olympics—World War II drove the pair apart. Convinced that his brother had called him a “bloody bastard” in 1943, Rudolf never forgave Adi (as he was called) and allowed the spat to split their booming sneaker business in half. Adi founded his own company and named it adidas. Rudolf in turn renamed the former “Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory” as “Ruda,” a combination of “Rudolf” and “Dassler.” In 1948, he retitled the company as PUMA, and a legendary brand was born.

Now, nearly 70 years later, PUMA continues to be a huge player in the sneaker industry. Whether it’s with their sneakers, sport-specific shoes, or even just casual wear, PUMA brings a unique combination of style and function to everything they release. And tomorrow, Puma will add yet another chapter to their amazing story: a new collection of the iconic, and updated, Roma Weave will drop at Champs Sports in one of the most anticipated releases of the summer.

The Roma Weave release is but one of many examples of PUMA’s massive influence on the industry, and on sports as a whole. The brand has been a mainstay at championship celebrations basically from the moment it was founded, and to this day continues to adorn the feet of the world’s best athletes.

PUMA Roma Weave

It didn’t take long for Rudolf Dassler’s fledgling company to take root once he broke away from his brother and launched PUMA as its own brand. PUMA first found its niche on the feet of the world’s greatest track stars. At the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, Luxembourg’s Josy Barthel became the first athlete in history to win a gold medal in PUMAs, which he did in the 1500-meter run. In 1960, Rudolf lured 100-meter sprinter Armin Hary away from rival adidas, and Hary repaid the favor by winning another gold medal for the PUMA brand.

It wasn’t long, however, before PUMA began to branch out and make a huge impact on other sports. World soccer was forever altered in 1968 when PUMA first released the “King” boot. It’s nearly impossible to overstate the impact the King has had on the world’s most popular sport; despite being nearly 50 years old, it is one of the few boots essentially unaltered by history and remains very popular even among the game’s best players.

In all of its history, soccer has had perhaps no more seminal figure than Pelé. Even today with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo making headlines every day, the Brazilian Pelé is still considered by most to be the greatest player of all time. And in the 1970 World Cup, Pelé went out of his way to introduce the world to PUMA’s iconic Formstripe boot. After signing a then-lucrative $120,000 endorsement deal with PUMA, Pelé stopped to tie his Formstripes just before kickoff of Brazil’s first match. Cameras around the world all zoomed in on the star and his PUMAs, and suddenly millions of people could not get their hands on the Formstripe fast enough.

PUMA further branched out in the sports world in 1973, adding another legendary mix of style and function with the “Clyde” basketball sneaker. New York Knicks star Walt “Clyde” Frazier was (and really, continues to be) a fashion icon in the NBA, and his signature shoe continues to be a popular choice among skaters and hip-hop artists to this very day.

PUMA has also made its mark on the other kind of football as well. In 1999, both the St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans wore PUMA in Super Bowl XXXIV, a game that is easily one of the most underrated NFL contests of all time.

Today, PUMA is synonymous with some of the world’s finest athletes, perhaps none more accomplished than Usain Bolt. The World’s Fastest Man has not only covered himself in glory with three Olympic gold medals (all won with PUMAs on his feet), he also owns the world record in both the 100 and 200-meter sprints, and is the only runner in history to hold the Olympic and World titles in both events at the same time.

Just this past year, PUMA branched out into the entertainment world by announcing that Rihanna was coming on board as a brand ambassador and the company’s Women’s Creative Director. An icon thanks to her style and individuality, Rihanna is yet another perfect example of the personalities that have long separated PUMA from its rival brands. That will be proven once again tomorrow, when you can cop the new Roma Weaves exclusively at Champs Sports.

Follow Doug on Twitter at @dcsibor