When Nike began as Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964 it was all about innovation. The Waffle Racer Bill Bowerman created in those first years put product focus on the athlete, creating sneakers that were first and foremost about performance and in dialogue with the sportsmen who wore them. But in 1978 Nike introduced its largest innovation to date with the Air Tailwind. Bowerman and Phil Knight were investigating better ways to have the shoes respond and they knew it would come down to the sole. So instead of just pouring rubber into waffle molds in their kitchen they incorporated air into the sole. The result was the Air program.

M. Frank Rudy helped develop Air for Nike, shopping his technology all over time and Nike wasn’t the first place that he went with his invention. Everyone else turned him down until he knocked on The Swoosh’s doors, who let him in. (This is the opposite story of adidas’ BOOST that was shopped to Nike first and rejected.) Thanks to his years at NASA, Rudy figured out how to take inert gas and pump it into a bubble that could be slotted into the sole of a sneaker. Nike took Rudy on and put the first Air bag in the Tailwind.

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