Adidas v Puma – The family feud

In the 1920s, the brothers started the Dassler Brothers Sports Shoe Company, Adolf (‘Adi’) Dassler was the quiet, thoughtful craftsman who designed and fabricated the shoes, Rudolph (‘Rudi’) was the elder and he was the frontman of the business. Both brothers joined the Nazi party when Hitler seized power in 1933, but this membership didn’t stop them supplying legendary African-American track star Jesse Owens with track shoes. Jesse Owens won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics and gave the Dassler’s international exposure. The wives of the two brothers didn’t get on and the tensions between the families increased during the war. When Rudi and his wife entered the same air raid shelter, Rudi heard Adi say, “The dirty bastards are back again.” Adi says he made the comment about the Allied forces bombing above. Rudi was convinced it was made about him and his wife, the rivalry continued through the war, with Rudi being called up for service, convinced it was Adi who had tried to have him sent to the front line to get rid of him. Rudi was arrested twice for desertion and by the allies on suspicion of working for the Gestapo. Apparently, there was evidence that Adi had provided intelligence in both of these cases to the authorities. Rudi was sent to a prisoner of war camp and Adi took the opportunity to sell shoes to the American service men. The conflict escalated as the brothers split the company in two in 1948, dividing the assets and the employees between themselves. Adi named his company ‘Adidas’, a combination of his first and last names. Rudi attempted the same by first naming his company ‘Ruda’ but eventually changed it to the more athletic sounding ‘Puma’. The two built competing factories on opposite sides of the river Aurach and quickly became responsible for much of Herzogenaurach’s economy, with nearly everyone working for one company or the other. As the entire town got caught up in the Dassler family feud, the rivalry reached ridiculous proportions. There were local businesses that served only Adidas or only Puma people, dating or marrying across company lines was forbidden, and Herzogenaurach became known as ‘the town of bent necks’ since people first looked at which company’s shoes you were wearing before deciding to talk to you. Whilst Rudi had the sales staff, and was better at moving product, Adi had the technical know-how and better relationships with athletes who could provide exposure, tipping the scales in favour of Adidas, with Puma constantly playing catch-up. However, in focusing so heavily on each other, both the companies were slow to react to the threat of Nike, which would come to dominate the athletic footwear industry, leaving them far behind. It wasn’t until 2009 when employees of both companies symbolised the end of six decades of feuding by playing a friendly soccer match. By then, the Dassler brothers had both died, within four years of each other. Even in death, the animosity continued as the brothers were buried at opposite ends of the same cemetery, as far away from each other as possible.

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