Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik aka Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory was the name they chose for their company that began its operations back in 1924 at Herzogenaurach, Germany. Just 4 years later, Amsterdam was host to the Olympic Summer Games, where majority of the German athletes wore Dassler spikes and won gold medals. The Berlin Olympic games followed shortly after, where Jesse Owens booked four gold medals while wearing Dassler spikes. Back then, the shoes were made of glove leather, with reinforced toe and heel along with six long spikes. What was fascinating though was that a German company handed over its shoes to an African-American athlete despite the prevalent racist and nationalist propaganda of the times resulting in German athletes losing out to an American on their home soil. The brand slowly cemented its name in the world of performance athletics emerging as THE CHOICE of athletes around the world. However, the relationship between the two founding members who also happened to be blood brothers deteriorated with Rudolf Dassler parting ways to create PUMA in 1948. The assets from the old business were divided equally between the two.
The same year, PUMA created its first ever football shoe named – the Atom, playing in which the West German football team scored its historic first post-war victory over Switzerland in 1950. But the true football boot came around from the German powerhouse in 1952 – the Super Atom. The shoe featured screw-in studs and was the first shoe of its kind developed in collaboration with West Germany’s national coach Sepp Herberger. In the later years, PUMA developed an enhanced version of the same shoe nicknamed Brazil which shot to limelight when Brazil’s football team won the world cup in Sweden wearing the shoe.
In 1960, the divide between the two brothers and how athletes would try to exploit the same was brought into light by a certain incident. Armin Hary, the German sprinter who was wearing PUMAs for the 100 m sprint final won the gold medal but for the podium ceremony, switched up his shoes to Adolf Dassler’s brand instead trying to make a quick buck from both the brands. Better business sense prevailed and Hary was banned due to this outrageous move. In the same year, PUMA reached new heights of innovation by introducing the advanced vulcanization production technique. In 1966, Benfica’s legendary player and Portugese National team’s striker became the top scorer of the 1966 World Cup in England and to honor his accomplishment, PUMA introduced the legendary King boot in 1968. Puma’s world famous jumping cat logo was the brainchild of a cartoonist from Nuremberg, Lutz Backes and was introduced to the world in 1967. Another PUMA icon was born just a year later that is loved and rocked across the world to this day – the classic suede. 1968 put the brand once again under the spotlight when athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, with a 200m gold win and a bronze finish respectively in Puma spikes, took off their shoes and placed them on the podium and raised their fists in a power salute as a sign of protest against apartheid, racism and discrimination towards African Americans.More accolades poured in as Pelé earned yet another “Player of the Tournament” award while wearing PUMA KING boots in Brazil’s third World Cup victory. Meanwhile, on the basketball court Walt “Clyde” Frazier asked PUMA for a custom-made pair of the classic Suedes. PUMA adjusted the original shoe and made it lighter and wider with “Clyde” stamp on the side marking the birth of the Puma Clyde. By 1979, legends like Johan Cruyff (football) and Guillermo Vilas (tennis) brought in more attention by rocking PUMA shoes on the field and court respectively. PUMA then changed its logo and ever since the cougar has been jumping atop the right hand corner.
The 80’s brought about the biggest revolution in footwear design and unleashed PUMA’s ambitious plans with technology at the heart of their creation. Originally conceptualized and designed by Atari’s Grass Valley R&D “think tank” – Cyan Engineering in 1983-84 the shoe was actually created in flesh by T&C for Yash Terakura and Gerry Cohen, who were both ex-Commodore Business Machines employees. Terakura designed the electronics of the shoe and since mass production was done in Japan back then, his contacts back home helped in putting the shoe together. The algorithm that converted the impulses from the shock sensor into distance was developed in conjunction with University of Pennsylvania’s Bio-Engineering Department. Basically the algorithm mapped the length between footfalls to the distance of the stride and and tried to determine the distance covered.
The promotion of buying a memory card with the Puma shoes and the cord was called “Jog Your Memory” but it never quite took off. Regardless, it just shows that PUMA was well ahead of its time and had the technology available at the time allowed, the RS-100 would’ve reached production!
Throughout the 80’s, it was the era of Tennis as both Boris Becker and Martina Navratilova took the brand to new heights after PUMA became a public company back in 1986. With the running culture getting some serious attention in 1989, PUMA pushed the boundaries further and came out with their new Trinomic technology which continues to be used in all of its R698’s and other models. In 1991, they came out with the disc system that eradicated the use of tie-up lacing and relied on an adjustable fit methodology. But this was not all and they continued with their research and development to produce “Cell” technology in 1996 which went on to be known as the first ever mid-sole without any foam! The same year, PUMA created waves in the world of innovative marketing when Linford Christie showed up at a press conference wearing contact lenses with a white Puma cat inscribed on them.
Their obsession with sports continued as they signed tennis star Serena Williams and in 1999 came out with the Mostro, a combination of the Sprintspike from 1968 and a surfing shoe from the 80’s. Madonna wore the shoe on her 2002 tour and made it a worldwide trend. Throughout the 2000’s, PUMA stayed vested heavily into sports, athletes and celebrities. Formula 1, Football, sailing, track and field, and golf are just some of the avenues they targeted. In 2015, PUMA flipped the game on its head by signing Rihanna as their global brand ambassador and Women’s Creative Director. She not only helped retro some of the classic styles but launched her own product line with the brand under the Fenty banner. PUMA also signed up rapper Big Sean who recently quit the brand with the three stripes.
PUMA’s latest ignite series is yet another leap for the cat into the future with technology, urban aesthetics and performance enhancements at its core. Any company can set mammoth goals for itself but the way PUMA set out to scale those heights resonates with the consumers of each generation and taste while building an everlasting legacy.