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Adidas - History of a Sports Giant

The Story behind the Global Company Adidas

Adidas is a global corporation. In 2020, the sporting goods manufacturer generated sales of approximately 19.8 billion euros, making it the No. 2 in the global sports business. The history of Adidas is a story of success - of inventiveness and precision, but also of setbacks, fraternal strife and the hard struggle for influence.

The turbulent history of Adidas.

The Adidas story begins in Herzogenaurach, in Middle Franconia, where it still plays out today. Adolf "Adi" Dassler, born in 1900, has returned safely from World War I and joins his parents' business with his own ideas. His mother Pauline runs a laundry, while father Christoph Dassler earns his money in the local shoe factory. Adi himself has learned the baker's trade, but now wants to make perfect shoes for athletes.

Light but Stable - The First Shoes by Adi Dassler

So the laundry room at home becomes the first workshop for the future big entrepreneur. Supported by his father, Adi begins to design sports shoes - light but sturdy made of canvas, equipped with the hand-forged spikes of his friends, the Zehlein brothers. In 1924 Adi's older brother Rudolf joins the business. The trade register is enriched by a big name: "Gebrüder Dassler, Sportschuhfabrik, Herzogenaurach".

Adidas - Ascent in Herzogenaurach

In the years to come, the business flourishes. Adi tinkers with ever new models for various sports, the local gymnastics club delivers the first major order and Rudolf increasingly proves to be a sales genius. At the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam, Adidas shoes also compete, and in 1932 the first Olympic medals are finally won in Adidas racing shoes. Lina Radke from Karlsruhe wins gold in the 800 meters.

Adidas initially produces only sports shoes.

Separation and New Beginning: Adidas & Puma

If the Dasslers survive the Great Depression comparatively well, World War II brings the company to the brink of the abyss. In the end, weapons are produced instead of shoes, the brothers - both members of the NSDAP - increasingly come into conflict, also regarding the orientation of the company after the war. Finally, they split up. In 1948 Rudolf Dassler founded Puma - today also among the top 10 in the sports business with sales of more than three billion euros - while Adi Dassler took off in 1949 with the "Adi Dassler adidas Sportschuhfabrik". From the very beginning, his trademark was the three stripes that everyone in the world of sports knows today.

1954 World Cup - Adidas’ Breakthrough

It is the "Miracle of Bern" that brings Adi Dassler his big breakthrough. In the legendary World Cup final in Switzerland, the German national team defeats the "unbeatable" Hungarians 3:2. A key to success are the new, lightweight Dassler shoes with screw-in studs that provide the German players with grip on the sodden ground. It is news that goes around the world, often linked to the question: Was the World Cup won in Herzogenaurach?

Adidas achieves its final breakthrough at the 1954 World Cup.

From Shoes to Sporting Goods - More Products, More Choice

In the following years, the product range becomes broader and broader. "Emperor" Franz Beckenbauer receives what is probably the first piece of clothing from Adidas, red and white with the three typical stripes. Since 1970, the ball for the World Cup has also come from Adidas in Herzogenaurach. The first World Cup ball, the "Telstar", is not red and white but black and white. After all, TV Germany still mainly watches in black and white, but thanks to the new ball with the best possible contrast. A temporary solution, because it was precisely with major sporting events such as the 1970 World Cup or the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich that colourful pictures began to make their way into living rooms. Those who could afford it not only invested in fan and sports articles, but also in a colour television. For Adidas, the 1972 Olympics are also the occasion to present the trefoil as a new logo.

The Death of Adi Dassler - An Era Comes to an End

When Adi Dassler dies in 1978, son Horst takes over the helm. At this point Adidas is doing excellent business, also with many well-known athletes who wear the logo. He consistently expands the Group and its network. Some of his entanglements in sports politics and with the clubs are controversial today, because a lot of money flows and not every decision at Fifa and other federations is as free as it should appear to the fans. Horst Dassler courts clubs as an outfitter and makes sure the company stays in the conversation. Adidas has arrived at the top of the world.

Turbulent Times - The 1980s and 90s

With the 1980s, price pressure and problems grow. The Dassler family has to sell most of its shares to investors. Since 1995 the company has been listed on the stock exchange (since 1998 on the Dax). With fresh money, the company takes over the sporting goods manufacturer Salomon in 1997, which turns out to be a loss-making business. The exit takes place in 2005, the golf division TaylorMade remains. A short time later, Adidas also acquires the traditional British sporting goods manufacturer Reebok. The deal cost a good three billion euros. However, here too the problems increase in the coming years.

15 Years Herbert Hainer

Adidas was headed by Herbert Hainer from 2001 to 2016. The record of the Lower Bavarian is formidable. Hainer was able to announce new records in sales and profits in some years. But there is a downer: The answer to the fairy-tale question, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who ..." is always "Nike".

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