Adidas and Puma: We analyze the history of the creation of Adidas and how Puma was created with the rivalry with its brother.
They engaged their whole lives in an unscrupulous business battle that spilled over into their children and grandchildren. Adolf (Adidas) and Rudolf Dassler (Puma) created two sports shoe empires and sponsored the greatest stars of the 20th century. The journalist Barbara Smit reconstructs in a book the history of this German saga that brought its companies to the top driven by hatred. We are going to know one of the most shocking stories among the big brands: Adidas vs. Puma, the story of two brothers facing each other.
Two brothers facing each other until death
The German brothers Adolf and Rudolf Dassler, who created the sports equipment brands Adidas and Puma respectively almost 60 years ago, hated each other to the point of inhumanity because of brutal commercial competition. They resorted to the most shady dealings, mafia methods and suburban tricks to unseat the rival and place their companies at the top. They fought together on the Belgian front during the Great War; the rest of their lives they would fight each other for the rest of history.
His offspring, children and grandchildren who inherited the business and the rivalry behaved with identical viciousness, perpetuating a domestic feud that is still going strong. The Dutch journalist Barbara Smit tells it in detail in the book Blood Brothers (LID Editorial). The work –a sharp and retrospective look that investigates the origin of sport as a mass spectacle, sponsorship of its great figures and unscrupulous global business– sniffs around archives, federations and secondary lives.
It analyzes the two mythical brands that invoice billions of euros a year (10,000 in the case of Adidas; 2,300 for Puma) and that today have swarms of young consumers who personify themselves with their idols through an outfit that stylists call casual.
From the Berlin medals of Jesse Owens to the breaks of the blaugrana Lionel Messi, Smit traces an unknown historiography of sport and its immense power to generate tons of money, a serial of offices and changing rooms without an iota of mercy. However, as in epic tragedies, the story begins peacefully in Herzogenaurach, a quiet corner of Bavaria, Germany.
The beginnings of the war between Adidas and Puma
The calendar showed 1926. Inside the “Gerbüder Dassler Schuhfabrik” the brothers Adolf and Rudolf make unbranded slippers and slippers. Also shoes with spikes for the few daredevils who are dedicated to running outdoors. Good quality materials, skillful manufacturing, extreme resistance… The benefits of Dassler footwear reached the ears of Josef Waitzer, coach of the German athletics team.
Jesse Owens and adidas sneakers
With Adolf (better known as Adi) playing the introverted artist, and Rudolf as the PR man, the pair were quick to sneak their wares into the Olympic village at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. an economic injection, contemplating sport as the perfect mirror to show the world the Aryan perfection. But it was the Jesse Owens Games. To the annoyance of Hitler and his head filmmaker Leni Riefensthal, the black athlete hung the golden glory four times in front of blond boys with blue eyes. The feat contained a secret: Jesse was wearing spiked shoes by Adi Dassler. The company was beginning to take off from the hand – and feet – of a slight boy from Alabama.
Antagonistic in their way of interpreting life and business, Barbara Smit emphasizes that the disagreements between Adolf and Rudolf intensified during World War II. By order of the Third Reich, the factory was converted into a workshop for tanks and missile launcher spare parts. Adi freed herself from wielding weapons to take charge of the warlike course that his company had taken. Rudolf, convinced of the Nazi cause and informer of the SS, joined the troops in Saxony and from there wrote a letter to his brother full of affection: «I will not hesitate to ask for the closure of the factory so that you have to assume an occupation that allows you to play at being the boss and, as an elite athlete, you have to carry a weapon».
To make matters worse, the domestic climate exploded at the end of the war contest. After a trial held by the allies to assess his level of commitment to Nazism, Adi was exonerated and was able to retain control of the company. With defeat in his suitcase and after having been a prisoner of the Americans and denounced by his own brother, Rudolf had to emigrate, with his wife and two children, to the other side of the Aurach River to start from scratch in a small factory on Würzburgerstrasse. The place was located a few kilometers away, but the reconciliation between them was a galaxy away. Half of the employees –the technicians– stayed with Adi; the other half – those in sales – signed up with Rudolf. The river marked the boundary between the followers of one or another brother. From this schism the sports shoe brand Puma was born in 1948, founded by Rudolf. A year later, Adolf registered another company to compete with him. He merged into a single name his diminutive and the beginning of his surname. Adidas was born.
The two brands go their way
The first big victory of this rivalry Adidas vs. Puma pointed it out to Adi at the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland. Puffed up and deified, Rudolf had underestimated the German coach Sepp Herberger, who began to make friends with Adolf. This provided him with boots with adjustable studs so that the German players would not slip if the field flooded. And so it happened in the final against the unbeatable Hungarian team. It started to rain and the Adidas boots grabbed like limpets in that chocolate shop. Unforeseen result: Germany beat the Magyars 3-2. The press baptized that game as “The miracle of Bern” (it even had a movie in 2003). The football boots reached mythical dimension.
But Adi had another enemy at home: Horst, her eldest son. Smit dismisses him as a “charming conspirator.” Ignoring his father’s policy, the offspring bossed around the brand’s French division, and his resume details how he blocked a Puma shipment destined for the Melbourne Games in 1956, how he reached an agreement with laborers from the olive tree in Fabara (Zaragoza) to sew balls for Adidas in the 1960s, or how he managed to exclusively sell sneakers in the Olympic Village in Mexico 1968. During the sympathetic tyranny of Horst Dassler, Adidas recruited Bob Beamon, an athlete who broke the length record (890 centimeters), and Dick Fosbury, an American who invented foreshortening for the high jump.
Olympic Games and Football World Cups
On the other side, Armin, Horst’s cousin and Rudolf Dassler’s son, delivered master strokes. The black power athletes left strategically placed Puma shoes on the podium so that they were examined by half the world: a cocktail of vindication and marketing. He also managed to get a Brazilian boy with the 10 on his back to lace up his Puma King boots in eternal moments before kick-off at a World Cup match in Mexico 70. The cameras stared at ground level at his magical feet. That sequence put millions of marks into Rudolf’s factory. The player in question was a certain Pele. And who stung like a bee and flew like a butterfly in the ring thanks to his high-top Adidas? Cassius Clay.
To the joy of the Adidas family, Rudolf Dassler died on September 6, 1976. Overflowing joy that was reflected in the following note of condolences: «For reasons of human mercy, the Adolf Dassler family will not comment on the death of Rudolf Dassler». Four years later Adi died and his grave was placed as far away as possible from that of his beloved brother. Rudolf’s will gave full powers to his wife Gerd and excluded his wayward son Armin, who was finally able to take control of the company after an eternal legal fight. Armin opened a fantastic period for the company. He signed Cruyff, the Danish Simonsen, the Nibelung Netzer… and in 1986 Diego Maradona won the World Cup in Mexico with Pumas that left the England players like trembling doors after a ski slalom.
New models of success
Meanwhile, the influence of the insatiable Horst got multinationals to invest in World Cups and Olympics. Intrigues, bribes, suspicions about UEFA, FIFA, the IOC… The Adidas house fell into the hands of the French businessman and former president of Olympique de Marseille Bernard Tapie in 1990 for 243 million euros. Two years later came bankruptcy. The decline coincided with the explosion of the American brands Nike and Reebok, which snatched part of the cake thanks to the popularization of the NBA. Madonna or Brad Pitt wearing Puma models contributed to the relaunch of a company in low hours since the withdrawal of Boris Becker.
Its president, Jochen Zeitz, could not stop the purchase by PPR, a French multinational. For its part, Adidas returned to German hands, bought Reebok for 3,000 million euros and its CEO, Herbert Hainer, returned glory and dividends. “Ironically, the only member of the saga linked to either company is Frank Dassler, grandson of the founder of Puma who works for Adidas!” exclaims Smit. Last symbols: Zidane, Beckham and several flashy national teams. Cuba included. Because not even Fidel Castro escaped Adi’s tentacles, who dresses his anti-imperialist, revolutionary and brittle body in an Adidas tracksuit every time he reappears. As the latest motto of the brand says, impossible is nothing.