Why Puma and Adidas Became Bitter Rivals

Why did the Dassler brothers split and never reconciled?
IMAGE Wikimedia Commons

There is a small town in Germany called Herzogenaurach where residents only wear two brands of shoes: Puma or Adidas. A river runs right in the middle of town, which also delineates the residents’ allegiance to the two brands. Puma dominates one side of town and Adidas controls the other. Herzogenaurach happens to be the birthplace of Rudolf and Adolf Dassler, famed founders of Puma and Adidas, respectively.

Rudolf Dassler (Left) and Adolf Dassler (Right)

Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

But before the brothers created two of the world’s top sports and lifestyle brands, they were very close to each other. They initially founded Gebruder Dassler Schuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory) in the same town in 1924.

And then the unthinkable happened: Rudolf and Adolf suddenly split, parting ways in bitter fashion. They split their business down to the last desk, typewriter, and penny. They set up their own shoe companies on opposite sides of the river. Their bitter rivalry not only affected their family, but every resident of the town. Puma and Adidas became the top employers of the small town, creating loyalists and polarizing the residents on opposite sides of the river.


The historic feud gave birth to two of the world’s most respected brands, but what actually caused the brothers’ feud and why did they never reconcile? The following are some speculations.

1| The brothers had irreconcilable creative differences.

It was a well-known fact that, between the two Dassler brothers, Adolf (“Adi”) was the one who designed shoes and Rudolf (“Rudi”) was the salesman. Eventually, their disagreements on the direction of the company led them to part ways and split the company down to the last penny. Rudi created Puma while Adi created Adidas.

2| Their wives hated each other.

One of the more interesting rumors about the Dassler brothers’ split is the tale about their wives, who were at each other’s throats over the control and profit of their husbands’ shoe company. To placate the women and avoid further conflict, the brothers decided to split the company equally. This does not explain, though, why the brothers' relationship remained cold up until their deaths. The brothers never reconciled, such that they had to be buried at opposite sides of the cemetery in the town they were born.

3| One of the brothers had an affair with the other’s wife.

If you google all the reasons explaining the Dassler brothers’ estrangement, you get silly tales that simply don’t add up to why the brothers stayed separated for over half a century, never reconciling. One tale alleges that Adi and his wife got offended when, during an air raid by the Allied forces, the couple overheard Rudi and his wife exclaim, “The bastards are back again,” just as they were entering the bomb shelter. They thought the comment was directed at them, when Rudi and his wife were referring to the Allied forces.

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But when you go to Herzogenaurach and speak with any of the older residents, they’ll tell a different story. This third rumor is the least talked about, but also the most probable of all speculations on why the Dassler brothers split. According to the residents of Herzogenaurach, one of the brothers slept with the wife of the other. When they were discovered, the brothers severed filial ties forever. That is the reason why the brothers split their business down to the last shoebox and never spoke to each other again.

The brothers went separate ways in 1948. That same year, Rudi moved to another building, which also became the headquarters of Sportschuhfabrik Rudolf Dassler (RUDA). He eventually changed the name of his shoe company to Puma. In 1949, Adi also established his own shoe company and called it Adidas, after his own name.

Puma carved its name in the annals of history as the only brand that bannered revolution and change in times of oppression, discrimination, and racism

The Puma Legacy and Heritage

Puma and Adidas became very different shoe brands that dominated different areas of sports. Puma dominated track and field. More important, it carved its name in the annals of history as the only brand that bannered revolution and change in times of oppression, discrimination, and racism.

Puma and the Black Power Salute at the 1968 Olympics

Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

In 1968, African-Americans Tommie Smith and teammate John Carlos won gold in the 200-meter sprint event at the Olympics. During the awarding ceremony, Smith and Carlos raised their right hands, fists clenched, protesting the racism and discrimination against African-Americans in the U.S., while raising their Puma suedes in honor of the only brand that picked them up. The gesture became immortalized in world history as the Black Power Salute.

After the awarding, Smith and Carlos left their Pumas on the awarding platform as a sign of gratitude and respect for the brand that believed in them despite their skin color.

In 2007, R&B artist Ne-Yo paid homage to Smith, Carlos, Puma, and the Black Power Salute in his music video for "Because of You." In the last part of the video, Ne-Yo can be seen dancing with his Puma suedes off, reenacting Smith and Carlos’ 1968 gesture of leaving their own suedes on the awarding platform. The world commemorated the 51st anniversary of the historic moment when the Black Power Salute was displayed on October 16.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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