Nike Inc. Company Timeline: 50 Years of Innovation

·11 min read


Phil Knight visits Onitsuka Tiger in Kobe, Japan, and pitches the idea of selling their shoes in the U.S. When asked the name of his company, Knight comes up with one on the spot: Blue Ribbon Sports, a reference to his childhood track and field ribbons.

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Jeff Johnson, who ran track with Knight during his graduate studies at Stanford University, opens the first Blue Ribbon Sports retail outlet in Santa Monica, Calif. Johnson was Blue Ribbon’s first employee, joining the company as a part-time salesman two years before opening the shop, which was thought to be the only specialty running store in the U.S. at the time.


Carolyn Davidson designs the “Swoosh” trademark. Davidson, a graphic design student from Portland State, created the checkmark-shaped logo, first called the “Stripe,” in preparation for the launch of Blue Ribbon Sports’ first branded footwear after Knight has a falling out with Onitsuka. She was paid $35.

Bill Bowerman creates the famous waffle outsole design by pouring liquid rubber compound into a waffle iron. Bowerman, the legendary track coach from the University of Oregon, held a 49 percent stake in Blue Ribbon Sports and had been experimenting with prototypes for years. He used his wife’s waffle iron to create a shoe that would be more compatible with the university’s new urethane track.

Bill Bowerman - Credit: Couresty of Nike
Bill Bowerman - Credit: Couresty of Nike

Couresty of Nike

Johnson comes up with the name in a dream and Nike Inc. is officially established on May 30, 1971; the name is an homage to the Greek goddess of victory. The name and Swoosh logo begin appearing on shoes for track and field, soccer, football and basketball.


Although the company was officially created the year before, Knight considers May 1, 1972 — the date Onitsuka informed him it was terminating its license with Blue Ribbon Sports — as Nike’s official founding date. As he wrote in his memoir “Shoe Dog,” “This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. Our moment. No more selling someone else’s brand. No more working for someone else. It’s time we faced facts: If we’re going to succeed, or fail, we should do so on our own terms, with our own ideas, with our own brand. Let’s not look at this as a crisis. Let’s look at this as our liberation. Our Independence Day.”


Nike pays Olympic icon Steve Prefontaine $5,000 to offset his training expenses, and in return, he becomes national director of public affairs and travels the Pacific Northwest introducing runners to these new Nike shoes.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, 1998. - Credit: ROBERT F. BUKATY/AP
Joan Benoit Samuelson, 1998. - Credit: ROBERT F. BUKATY/AP



Nike launches apparel.

Phil Knight in his office at Nike in Beaverton, Oregon, 1986. - Credit: BRENT WOJAHN/AP
Phil Knight in his office at Nike in Beaverton, Oregon, 1986. - Credit: BRENT WOJAHN/AP



Nike signs Joan Benoit Samuelson to its athlete roster. She is the second female sponsored athlete, following Mary Decker in 1978.


Nike Inc. becomes a publicly traded company on the Nasdaq stock exchange. Knight personally would own 46 percent and is now worth $178 million.

The Nike Sport Research Lab opens in Exeter, N.H., with a sophisticated biomechanics shoe testing facility. Then-new hire Mark Parker, who eventually becomes the president, chief executive officer and executive chairman of Nike Inc., suggests the lab’s name.


Blue Ribbon Sports merges into Nike Inc., making Nike Inc. the official name of the company.

Nike Air, the cushioning technology first debuted in the Nike Tailwind three years earlier, gets its own logo. The logo shows up on subsequent shoes featuring Nike Air, earning distinct popularity and cache.


Jeff Johnson, employee number one, retires at age 41.


Although he had initially wanted to join the Adidas roster, Nike manages to sign Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan to a five-year endorsement deal. The first Air Force 1 is introduced in 1985.


The “Just Do It” slogan debuts in a television advertisement featuring octogenarian runner Walt Stack.

The Jumpman logo. - Credit: Courtesy of Nike
The Jumpman logo. - Credit: Courtesy of Nike

Courtesy of Nike

Designer Peter Moore traces Jordan’s silhouette from a Nike poster to create the now-iconic Jumpman logo. It debuts on the Air Jordan 3. However, the company runs afoul of Life Magazine photographer Jacobus Rentmeester, who claims to have taken the photo that inspired the logo, leading to a copyright infringement suit that is ultimately dismissed.


Mike Schmidt, the first building completed on the new Nike World Headquarters campus, opens to employees and is named after the former Phillies third baseman. Subsequent buildings are named after Nike athletes including Michael Jordan, John McEnroe and Joan Benoit Samuelson.

The first Niketown opens in Portland, Ore.

Nike is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, moving on from the Nasdaq.


As the result of a report by activist Jeff Ballinger from Press for Change, the company comes under fire for poor working conditions and low wages being paid to workers in the Indonesian factories that produce its sneakers and activewear.


Nike responds to the outrage by publishing the Supplier Code of Conduct, establishing standards for overtime work, compensation, forced labor and health and safety.


Nike introduces Reuse-a-Shoe, an innovative sustainability program that collects, sorts and grinds used athletic shoes into Nike Grind, which is used in athletic court, track, field and playground surfaces.

A Sheryl Swoopes “This Game Is Mine” Nike poster. - Credit: Courtesy of Nike
A Sheryl Swoopes “This Game Is Mine” Nike poster. - Credit: Courtesy of Nike

Courtesy of Nike


In the fall, Nike releases a TV spot titled, “If You Let Me Play,” intended to inspire female athletes. The company launches its second signature shoe ever, and the first named after a woman: WNBA player Sheryl Swoopes.

Tiger Woods, 1996 - Credit: Al Messerschmidt Archive/AP
Tiger Woods, 1996 - Credit: Al Messerschmidt Archive/AP

Al Messerschmidt Archive/AP


Nike signs golfer Tiger Woods to a five-year endorsement deal for $40 million.

Michael Jordan on stage during the Jordan Jumpman brand activewear and sneaker launch at Niketown on Sept. 9, 1997. - Credit: Robert Mitra/WWD
Michael Jordan on stage during the Jordan Jumpman brand activewear and sneaker launch at Niketown on Sept. 9, 1997. - Credit: Robert Mitra/WWD

Robert Mitra/WWD


The Jordan franchise spins off to become its own brand under Nike Inc., called Jordan Brand.


Phil Knight responds to continued criticism of its manufacturing practices, saying the brand had “become synonymous with slave wages, forced overtime and arbitrary abuse,” and says it will raise the minimum wage of workers, increase monitoring and ensure strict U.S. standards are used in all its factories around the world.


Nike begins direct-to-consumer sales of its products on The original website launched in 1996, intentionally without retail, to promote the stories of Nike athletes and products featured in the Summer Games.

The Nike iD shoe customization platform launches on It debuts with the Air Force 1 and gives consumers 82 different materials and options to create their own unique sneaker.

Nike opens European headquarters in Hilversum, The Netherlands.

After the U.S. women won the World Cup in soccer, Brandi Chastain removed her shirt and held it over her head while kneeling on the grass to celebrate the victory — showcasing her black Nike sports bra.

Bill Bowerman dies on Christmas Eve at age 88.


Matthew Knight, Phil Knight’s eldest son, dies in a scuba diving accident.


Nike launches its first Corporate Responsibility Report focusing on the environment, labor practices, community affairs, employees and engagement with stakeholders.


Nike Inc. acquires Converse Inc. for $315 million when the brand had sales of $200 million. It is now worth $1.9 billion.

Kobe Bryant and LeBron James at the Staples Center on Jan. 12, 2004 in Los Angeles. - Credit: Kirby Lee/AP
Kobe Bryant and LeBron James at the Staples Center on Jan. 12, 2004 in Los Angeles. - Credit: Kirby Lee/AP

Kirby Lee/AP

Nike signs LeBron James and Kobe Bryant to endorsement deals.


Phil Knight steps down as president and CEO of Nike Inc., which has grown into a $12 billion corporation, and William D. Perez, head of S.C. Johnson & Son, succeeds him in those roles. Knight remains as chairman of the board of directors.


After clashing with Knight on the future direction of the company, Perez resigns as president and CEO and is succeeded by Nike brand copresident Mark Parker.

Knight relinquishes the role of chairman to Parker, effectively ending his tenure at the company he founded. Today, he serves as chairman emeritus and he and his family, both personally and through a trust called The Swoosh LLC, still own more than 9 percent of the Class A shares and approximately 1 percent of the Class B shares of the company.

Nike’s sales hit $16 billion, exceeding archrival Adidas’ $10 billion. The company now employs 10,000 people.


The first Nike Sportswear retail store opens in New York City at 21 Mercer Street and it soon becomes known for its Nike Bespoke design studio and popular NikeLab sneaker drops.


Nike’s first iPhone app, Nike Training Club, launches to the public and grows to become the number-one health and fitness app in more than 23 countries.


Nike launches the Nike Run Club App, initially called Nike+ GPS to help runners track pace, distance and time while receiving motivational feedback from professional athletes.

Colin Kaepernick runs a drill during the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Feb. 27, 2011. - Credit: Darron Cummings/AP
Colin Kaepernick runs a drill during the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Feb. 27, 2011. - Credit: Darron Cummings/AP

Darron Cummings/AP


Nike signs San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and stands by him after he starts a national debate for kneeling during the American anthem to protest racism, social injustice and police brutality, even featuring him in an advertising campaign in 2018.


Nike joins First Lady Michelle Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to announce Nike’s commitment to get kids moving, committing $50 million to Let’s Move! Active Schools, promoting children’s physical activity across the U.S.

Converse Inc. headquarters in Boston. - Credit: Courtesy of Nike
Converse Inc. headquarters in Boston. - Credit: Courtesy of Nike

Courtesy of Nike


Converse Inc. moves into new headquarters in Boston, complete with a recording studio, gym, yoga studio, cafés and flagship retail store.

Converse Inc. opens European world headquarters in Hilversum, The Netherlands.

Nike launches the Snkrs App, a one-stop shop, providing mobile access to the company’s most premium sneaker releases.

Nike and LeBron James introduce Fly Ease, an easy entry-and-closure system designed by Tobie Hatfield. Hatfield initiated the project after receiving a letter from 16-year-old student Matthew Walzer, who had cerebral palsy and dreamed of going to college without having to worry about someone helping him tie his shoes each day.


Nike opens headquarters in New York City at 855 Sixth Avenue, a significant improvement from its first Manhattan office in 1985. This one features an open office space and an indoor basketball court.

Nike launches the Nike Pro Hijab, providing a lighter, softer and more breathable garment for Muslim women to participate in sport.


Nike releases a new Nike App designed to provide a better shopping experience and intended to bridge the worlds of tech and physical retail via smartphones and Nike retail stores.

Shanghai 001, Nike’s first House of Innovation store concept, opens a four-level unit in the Nanjing East Road shopping district in Shanghai.

A month after Shanghai, the six-story House of Innovation 000 opens in New York City. The store features the Nike Speed Shop and a floor with product restocked based on local community data.

Serena Williams featured in Nike’s “Dream Crazy” campaign. - Credit: Courtesy of Nike
Serena Williams featured in Nike’s “Dream Crazy” campaign. - Credit: Courtesy of Nike

Courtesy of Nike

Nike commemorates the 30th anniversary of “Just Do It,” and introduces “Dream Crazy,” a new campaign featuring athletes Colin Kaepernick, Serena Williams, LeBron James, Eliud Kipchoge and others.


Mark Parker steps down as CEO amid a host of scandals that rocked the company including charges of a toxic workplace, doping allegations surrounding Alberto Salazar and his Oregon Project at Nike, female athletes being paid less than their male counterparts, and the resignation of Nike brand president Trevor Edwards following rumors of inappropriate workplace behavior.

John Donahoe, a board member and former CEO of eBay, succeeds Parker as CEO of Nike.

Eliud Kipchoge breaks the two-hour marathon mark — running 1:59:40 on Oct. 12 in the Nike Alphafly Next%. However, the shoes created enormous controversy with detractors saying their technological advances provided athletes with an unfair advantage.

Nike introduces the Nike Victory Swim collection, bringing performance innovation to modest swimwear.

Nike acquires Celect, a leading retail predictive analytics and demand sensing firm based in Boston.

Nike unveils its “Move to Zero” sustainability initiative, which includes developing owned-and-operated facilities powered by 100 percent renewable energy by 2025 and reducing carbon emissions across the brand’s global supply chain by 30 percent by 2030.


Following the murder of George Floyd, Nike, Jordan Brand, Converse and Michael Jordan commit $140 million to combat systemic racism with the donation focusing on social justice, economic justice, education and awareness.


Nike Inc. acquires Datalogue, a leading data integration platform start-up based in New York.

Nike unveils the LeBron James Innovation Center, the new home of the Nike Sport Research Lab. The 84,000-square-foot research facility houses the world’s largest motion-capture installation, with 400 cameras and 97 force plates. The building also includes a full-size basketball court, a 200-meter endurance track, a 100-meter straightaway and an artificial turf training pitch.

Nike acquires RTFKT Studios, a digital brand that specializes in NFTs, game engines, blockchain authentication and augmented reality.

Inside the Serena building at Nike’s Beaverton, Ore., headquarters. - Credit: Courtesy of Nike
Inside the Serena building at Nike’s Beaverton, Ore., headquarters. - Credit: Courtesy of Nike

Courtesy of Nike


Nike opens the Serena Williams Building at its world headquarters in Beaverton. The 1 million-square-foot building includes labs, showrooms and offices as well as a tennis court, four cafés and a theater.

Nike celebrates its 50th anniversary.

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