Never Done Breaking The Mould
Department of Nike Archives
Discover the legacy of the Waffle Racer, a breakfast-inspired breakthrough that changed the future of running and innovation forever—and how it continues to inspire creators from all walks of life to this day. From a kitchen experiment, for an innovation revolution.
Revolution in performance can come from the most unlikely of places. However, even the most innovative of visionaries may have struggled to believe running was about to change forever as Barbara Bowerman—wife of Bill, the legendary American athletics coach and co-founder of Nike—rustled up a plateful of waffles on a lazy Oregon morning in 1971.
But hunger wasn't the only thing triggered by the waffle maker in that kitchen.
Hunting for a way to make shoes lighter, faster and better at gripping Hayward Field's new artificial track surface without spikes, Bill was hit by inspiration as his breakfast hit his plate.
"You know, by turning it upside down—where the waffle part would come in contact with the track—I think that might work".
Bill Bowerman, Nike founder and its first mould breaker.
Ideas are one thing, action is another. Luckily for the world of running, Bill Bowerman was not one for theory but practice. It is an ethos of out-of-the-box (and in-the-iron) creativity, ingenuity and entrepreneurialism that has since gone on to power the ways of working at Nike that have produced hundreds of innovations from sustainability to design. Within minutes, he was pouring a can of liquid urethane into the waffle maker, chasing the thread of a thought that would eventually materialise as the sole of Nike's first-ever running shoe.
This experiment wasn't without risk: the family waffle maker, a much-cherished wedding present, certainly never recovered. But 50 years on, the butterfly effect of the way he approached problem-solving and paradigm-shifting continues to inspire a new wave of thinkers and tinkerers.
Nike's Innovation Kitchen is named in homage to Bill's original laboratory, and is laid out so that the designers, engineers and developers can see each other's desks and throw random ideas or thoughts in on each other's work in much the same way that Bowerman would be hit by inspiration. The studio's Director of Athlete Innovations, Tobie Hatfield, talks of how his first lesson in innovation and listening to athletes was when Bowerman x-rayed his feet as a student pole-vaulter and hurdler at South Eugene High. A few weeks later, Hatfield was presented with a custom track spike with re-drilled spike holes strategically placed to match his bone structure.
Nike Moonshoe. The shoe that started it all.
Bowerman's wacky, DIY outlook on research and development lives on in innovations such as the raised heel, the nylon upper and the continuous midsole. His footprint is evident in Nike's halls to this day. Though the original and today's Waffle Racer are very different—the modern-day street sneaker sports a mix of recycled materials and a foam midsole—they were both landed upon through the same process of iteration, unconventional problem-solving and focus on serving the athlete.
In the video above, find out more about how Nike creators are keeping the spirit of experimentation alive, and seeing endless possibilities in the most random of inspirations.