PUMA’S LONG HISTORY OF INNOVATION, SPEED AND SUCCESS
In the beginning.
It’s hard to believe that two of the world’s major running shoe brands could evolve from the same family. Or that a dispute among brothers could cause a rift that would shake up and invigorate the athletic shoe industry.
Believe it or not, Puma got its start when a falling-out came between German brothers Rudolf and Adi Dassler. This resulted in Rudolf (or “Rudi”) leaving their family’s successful athletic shoe business (the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory, aka “adidas”) to start his own brand in Herzogenaurach, Germany in 1948.
A LEGACY OF SOCCER SUCCESS
Although Rudi had to start from scratch, it didn’t take long for Puma make its mark. They launched new soccer shoes that were smartly functional, innovative and fashion forward. Known as the Atom, that first Puma shoe was proudly worn by many of West Germany’s players in the country’s first post-World War II match against Switzerland. When they won 1-0, the new brand began to soar.
Puma would dominate the soccer world in the 1950s and the brand’s popularity eventually exploded outside of Europe. When Brazil beat Sweden to win the 1958 World Cup, the entire time was shod in Puma soccer cleats — including a young budding superstar named Pelé. Brazil would repeat the World feat in Puma shoes in 1962 and win it again in 1970.
With Rudi at the helm, Puma would continue to be an international leader in soccer footwear. It would also go on to develop innovative shoes for basketball, tennis, golf, auto racing and sailing. But it’s true calling was always in fast, efficient running shoes.
OLYMPIC SPEEDSTERS IN PUMA SHOES
All along, Puma had been developing new track and field spikes that had always been close to Rudi’s heart. When West German sprinter Armin Hary set a new world record of 10.25 seconds in the 100-meter dash in the spring of 1960, he was wearing a pair of Puma’s innovative leather spikes that had sections of vulcanized rubber for support. The world’s fastest man lived up to his billing at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. He took home the gold medal in the 100-meter dash and anchoring West Germany’s victorious 4×100-meter relay.
At the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, three athletes wearing Puma shoes took home gold medals — Belgium’s Gaston Roelants (3,000-meter steeplechase), Great Britain’s Mary Rand (long jump) and Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila (marathon). Bikila, of course, became famous for winning the marathon at the 1960 Olympics while running barefoot. Four years later, he repeated his title, lowering his own world record to 2:12:11. He was wearing a pair of featherweight and flexible Puma Osaka running shoes.
TRACK INNOVATION AND DOMINANCE
Puma athletes turned the track and field world upside down wearing innovative Sacramento “brush” spikes in 1968. The pioneering brush soles had 68 tiny plastic bristles under the forefoot and they were fast! Just a few weeks prior to the Olympics, numerous American runners set world records wearing the shoes.
Although those shoes were eventually banned from competition by the IAAF, American superstars Tommie Smith, Lee Evans, Willie Davenport and Bob Seagren cleaned up at the Mexico City Olympics that fall wearing other fast, next-generation Puma models.
In the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Mary Peters, Great Britain (pentathlon), John Akii-Bua, Uganda (400m hurdles), Randy Williams of the U.S. (long jump) and Klaus Wolfermann of West-Germany (javelin) all won gold medals to help solidify Puma’s position as one of the most dominant brands in track and field.
1970S: PLAYING A BIG PART OF THE FIRST RUNNING BOOM
Puma’s Easy Rider training shoes provided cushioning through the brand’s innovative knobby outsole and soft EVA midsole cushioning. The sole worked well as a shock absorber and was often used for cross country and marathon running.
Another shoe, the SAAS1, earned international patents for its unusual double-cone studs arranged in V-formations. As the foot hit the ground, the studs splayed out displacing energy and reducing the shock which your body would normally have received during foot-strike. Then as the foot lifted back off, the studs sprang back to their original shape returning stored energy and giving the runner’s foot as extra burst of forward momentum.
1985: UNVEILING THE WORLD’S FIRST DIGITAL SHOE
The engineers at Puma were so ahead of the game in 1985, they developed the world’s first digitally interactive running shoe decades before smartphones and digital training apps.
Based on the RS100, Puma unveiled the high-tech shoe with a built-in circuit board, microprocessors and an inertia switch that was triggered by the impact of a runner’s feet hitting the ground.
The $200 shoe could be hooked up to a Commodore 64 or an Apple II using a 16-pin cord to upload speed, distance and calorie burn data.
1991: REVOLUTIONARY DISC TECHNOLOGY
In 1991, Puma launched the game-changing PUMA Disc technology on a running shoe, the first lace-less sports shoe with a system of internal wires that tighten the upper for a perfect fit.
The technology proved successful as Heike Drechsler (long jump), Dieter Baumann (5.000m) and Linford Christie (100-meter dash) all won gold medals wearing Puma Disc spikes at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Following them was Colin Jackson who won the 110-meter high hurdles at the IAAF World Championships the following year in Disc spikes.
2000s: USAIN BOLT, THE FASTEST MAN IN HISTORY
At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt wore Puma Complete Theseus spikes to win gold medals and set new world records in the 100-meter (9.69) and 200-meter events (19.30) while also helping Jamaica’s 4×100-meter relay to a record-setting victory.
That began Bolt’s amazing nine-year run as the world’s most dominant track athlete, a span in which he won eight official Olympic gold medals, lowered the world records to 9.58 and 19.19 and won 11 sprint and relay titles at the IAAF World Championships.
Along the way, he helped Puma recreate the Faas line of shoes. These were developed around a three-part system that allowed for a more natural running rhythm while improving strength and flexibility in the lower legs. With Bolt as the brand’s front man, Puma also relaunched the Disc system in 2016 with the Ignite Disc running shoe and EvoSpeed Disc racing spikes.
2021: WHAT’S NEXT?
Coming soon Puma has some exciting new tech to share with the running world with JackRabbit as their lead partner in the US.
We’ll be sharing more news soon. Be sure to follow JackRabbit on social media to be the first to know.