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The Dassler Brothers Battled Over Their Joint Shoe Company During WWII, Eventually Splitting Into Adidas And Puma


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The Puma and Adidas shoe companies owe their origins to a pair of German brothers, Rudolf "Rudi" and Adolf "Adi" Dassler (pictured). While Rudi was drafted in WWI, Adi began creating shoes in their mother's laundry room, and in the 1920s, the brothers formed the Dassler Brothers Sports Shoe Company. It soon reached success due to Adi's innovative new shoes with spikes on the bottoms. At the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, American sprinter Jesse Owens won four gold medals wearing the shoes.

But success led to tension between the brothers, and WWII brought them into a full-blown feud. After Rudi refused to employ his sister Marie's two sons, hoping to deny other family members control of the company, both sons were drafted into the military and killed. Rudi was himself drafted in 1943, for which he blamed his brother. Adi managed to avoid the draft, as he was deemed essential to running the business. Rudi tried to desert his post, fearing his brother was planning to take over, but the Gestapo caught and imprisoned him for the rest of the war.

Like many Germans at the time, Rudi and Adi were both members of the Nazi party, joining in the 1930s. After WWII, each attempted to paint the other as the bigger Nazi, although Rudi was reportedly the more loyal party member. The denazification panel agreed, and Rudi was again briefly imprisoned.

In 1948, the Dassler brothers finally decided to go their separate ways, splitting their assets and forming competing companies. Adi formed "Adidas" using a shortened combination of his first and last name. Rudi called his company "Ruda," which eventually became "Puma."

At the height of the shoe feud, their German town itself (Herzogenaurach) became divided. Workers for either company didn't dare cross the village river to the side of the other. For the remainder of their lives, the siblings rarely saw each other, but on his deathbed in 1974, Rudi invited Adi to speak to him one last time.

His brother declined.

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