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

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Overview

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, ...

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

David Maraniss
“First-class piece of investigative reporting... enthralling narrative tale... invaluable contribution to our understanding of shoes, sports, corruption.”
Bobbito Garcia
“SNEAKER WARS is great for understanding the ins and out of the industry.”
Time Magazine
“What does David Beckham’s superstardom have to do with a pair of warring Bavarian brothers in the early 1900s? More than you think, according to this compelling book.”
Conde Nast Portfolio
“Smit brings a keen reporter’s eye to the schism between Puma and Adidas. The book also ably tells the broader story of the red-hot global sneaker trade.”
Sunday Telegraph
“Barbara Smit deserves high praise.”
Wall Street Journal
“As a history of how so much of the world came to be shod in running shoes, SNEAKER WARS is a book you’ll read at a sprint. Drawing from dozens of interviews and stacks of documents, Ms. Smit reconstructs an anecdote-rich history of competition, commercialism and corruption.”
Wall Street Journal
“As a history of how so much of the world came to be shod in running shoes, SNEAKER WARS is a book you’ll read at a sprint. Drawing from dozens of interviews and stacks of documents, Ms. Smit reconstructs an anecdote-rich history of competition, commercialism and corruption.”
Time Magazine
“What does David Beckham’s superstardom have to do with a pair of warring Bavarian brothers in the early 1900s? More than you think, according to this compelling book.”
Sunday Telegraph
“Barbara Smit deserves high praise.”
Conde Nast Portfolio
“Smit brings a keen reporter’s eye to the schism between Puma and Adidas. The book also ably tells the broader story of the red-hot global sneaker trade.”
Colin Fleming
Reading at times like an absurdist farce, Barbara Smit's tale of athletic apparel, villainy and comeuppance is bound to give you pause next time you're standing in front of the seemingly endless wall of sneakers at the local shoe store. Sneaker Wars ventures deep into the fraternal divide that resulted in the ubiquitous sports brands of Adidas and Puma and, Smit argues, invented an industry in the process…Smit gets behind the business proposals, marketing plans and constant dollar signs to focus on the human aspects of how these warring brands succeeded, and why they faded. It is that human component that makes Sneaker Wars read like a modern cautionary tale for those apt to turn big business into the most dangerous of sports.
—The Washington Post
School Library Journal

At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, an unassuming German shoemaker had one goal in mind: to get his racing spikes on the feet of the fastest man in the world. U.S. Olympian Jesse Owens sprinted and leapt his way to four gold medals in those games-shod in Adi Dassler's spikes. Decades later, the three stripes on Adi's shoes would become a worldwide icon. International business journalist Smit tells the intriguing (and sometimes harrowing) tale of Adolph (Adi) and Rudolph (Rudi) Dassler. Together they built up their father's fledgling shoemaking business in a picturesque Bavarian village. But their lives were anything but idyllic. Smit does an excellent job of unlacing the brothers' complicated relationship and business dealings. After World War II, they parted ways to establish two of the top athletic shoe companies in the world. Adidas (founded by Adi) and Puma (founded by Rudi) dominated the athletic shoe market in Europe, and Adidas eventually took the U.S. market by storm. The Dassler story here covers brand-building and the birth of corporate sponsorship as much as it does the Dassler family, making this book a good choice for public and academic library business collections.-Carol J. Elsen, Univ. of Wisconsin, Whitewater

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews
In her impressive debut, business journalist Smit tears the laces off two beloved conglomerates. The majority of casual jocks may wear Nike and Converse, but for the hipster athlete (or non-athlete) willing to pay a few extra bucks for sneakers with flash as well as functionality, Adidas and Puma are it. The respective history of these two European shoe corporations is shadowy at best, and certainly intriguing enough to merit a full-length study. Smit brings the reader into the innovative minds and often black hearts of old-school sneaker magnates-and Nazi party members-Rudolf (Rudi) and Adolf (Adi) Dassler. The brothers began churning out shoes in the early 1920s, then split the company some two decades later, Rudi starting Puma and Adi launching Adidas. In addition to relating their up-and-down relationship, Smit also examines the effect of athlete endorsements on both society and business, discussing the involvement of everybody from 1936 Olympics sprinter Jesse Owens to 1972 swimming medalist Mark Spitz to soccer player David Beckham in 2007. She also cleverly touches on the shoes' place in the entertainment industry; for example, there's a small but sharp passage about the classic Run-D.M.C. rap jam "My Adidas."Smit's flat, textbook-like prose hardly matches her subject's vibrancy, but that's a relatively minor flaw in a fast-moving tale about the machinations behind contemporary pop culture's most enduring footwear. Agent: David Luxton/Luxton Harris
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061246586
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/17/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 436,299
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 3.80 (d)

Meet 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.

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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.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2013

    An interesting and in-depth look at a story that not too many fa

    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.

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