Photograph of Nike running shoes

Nike running shoes with patented waffle sole, about 1979
Bill Bowerman, the track coach at the University of Oregon in the 1950s and 1960s, combined his pre-med training, coaching experience, and love of tinkering into a lifelong quest to build a better running shoe. Working out of his home, Bowerman created prototype shoes that were tested by his student athletes. The legend that Bowerman created some of the early models of this sole by pouring rubber into his wife’s waffle iron is most likely apocryphal, if for no other reason than the resulting material would have resembled a waffle, not a waffle iron! At any rate, the story obscures Bowerman’s many contributions to running-shoe innovation, including the raised heel, the nylon upper, and the continuous midsole.


Image of drawing of U.S. patent for waffle-soled Nike shoe

Drawing for U.S. patent 4,098,011 for waffle-soled Nike shoe, 1978
The hexagonal cleats incorporated into the design of the sole provide greater traction on hard surfaces. The cleats are spaced far enough apart so they don’t clog with dirt and grass. The larger cleats on either side of the heel and toe provide greater lateral stability and longer wear. Bill Bowerman and his colleagues Stanley James and Dennis Vickey applied for a patent on the “waffle” sole in 1977 and patent number 4,098,011 was granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office on July 4, 1978.


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