Nike Waffle Trainer, 1974 Photo: The Brooklyn Museum

Nike Waffle Trainer, 1974 Photo: The Brooklyn Museum

In the late 1960s Bill Bowerman stepped out of his role as the track and field coach for the University of Oregon to focus his efforts on designing a new athletic shoe. His goal was to create one that was lightweight, gripped the ground well, and ultimately was something that everyone could afford. One lazy morning, as his wife poured batter into the family’s waffle iron, he knew he had found gold in that honeycomb pattern. The waffle iron design was perfect for his new footwear, the “Moon Shoe,” debuting in 1972, eventually being renamed and released as the “Waffle Trainer” in 1974. [1] Bowerman, along with his partner Phil Knight, went on to sell the Waffle Trainer as Blue Ribbon Shoes, eventually changing its name to Nike.

Pre-1869 Waffle Iron without Hinge, Clasp, and Handle Photo: Montgomery County Historical Society

Pre-1869 Waffle Iron without Hinge, Clasp, & Handle Photo: Montgomery County Historical Society

Waffle irons, however, are much older than the Waffle Trainer. In fact, they date back as far as the early 1300s. [2] Original waffle irons consisted of two pieces of honeycombed metal held together by tongs and placed over the fire. [2] The iron would cook on one side and then be flipped by hand to cook the other side of the batter or dough. In 1869, Cornelius Swaetwout patented a new waffle iron. [3] Swaetwout added a clasp and handle, eliminating the need for tongs. These new pieces also reduced the risk of the batter slipping out onto the stove when being flipped. In 1911 General Electric released the first electric waffle iron. [4] This was the beginning of the self-standing electrical units, no fire or stove needed, that we know today. However, the general design of the waffle iron has not changed much over the last 150 years.

Nike, however, has experienced many changes over the years. When the Waffle Trainer was first debuted the shoe was marketed solely to a male audience. In fact, it was not until 1991, seventeen years later, that Nike began to market its shoes to women in its “Empathy” campaign. [5] However, it was the domestic, female space that provided the inspiration for the shoe that would revolutionize sporting footwear through the decades.

Waffle Iron, 1900s, Fenimore Art Museum. Cooperstown, NY.

Swaetwout Designed -1880 Waffle Iron with Clasp & Handle. The Farmers’ Museum. Cooperstown, NY.

Bill Bowerman’s family crossed the Oregon Trail back in 1845, ultimately settling on the banks of the Tualatin River in the Willamette Valley. It is not unreasonable to assume that his female ancestors owned and used waffle irons, such as the ones patented in 1869 with the clasp and handle. It is hard to image, however, that they could have known what would one day come from this seemingly ordinary kitchen appliance.

So the next time you sit down to a lazy weekend breakfast keep your eyes open; you never know where the next great advancement in sporting goods will come from!

-Melissa Olsen

  1. “Oregon Experience: Bill Bowerman,” last modified April 2, 2015, http://www.opb.org/television/programs/oregonexperience/segment/bill-bowerman/.
  2. “Smithsonian Libraries: Waffle Iron Patented,” last modified August 2010, http://blog.library.si.edu/2010/08/waffle-iron-patented/.
  3. “Google Patents,” last modified unknown, https://www.google.com/patents/US94043.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson, Nike Culture (London: Sage Publications Ltd), 126.
  6. Waffle Iron, June 29th 1880, Griswold Manufacturing Company, Cast Iron, 8 1/2″. The Farmers’ Museum Collection, Cooperstown, NY, F0546.1948.
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