Two of the most famous and popular shoe brands in the world are Adidas and Puma. You may know that Adidas is named for Adolf Dassler, and you also may have heard that his brother Rudolph founded Puma. But what I’m guessing you probably didn’t know is that they founded those companies as part of a bitter and violent sibling rivalry.
Adolf Dassler and Rudolph Dassler, or Adi and Rudi to their friends, founded the Dassler Brothers Sports Shoe Company in the 1920s. The company would become the precursor to not one, but two of the most massive shoe companies in the world in Adidas and Puma. In fact, when Jesse Owens won the gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, he was wearing a pair of their shoes.
But things were far from happy between the two brothers, starting right around the time their company started to blow up and both brothers joined the Nazi party just in time for World War II. What started out as a sibling rivalry morphed into a bitter family feud that led to paranoia, scheming, and even the possibility of murder plots. Wait, murder plots?
Well, it’s not quite that simple. Still, the relationship between the brothers had already started to crumble before the war, to the point where when Rudi was called into service and sent to the front lines, he was utterly convinced that it was Adi and his wife who had pulled strings to get him there so that he would be killed, and they could have the business to themselves. It didn’t help that Rudi was taken as a prisoner of war and Adi decided that was a perfect time to start rebuilding the business.
Oh, and there’s also the fact that when Rudi deserted his post and later worked for the Gestapo, it was Adi who fed the information that led to his arrest and imprisonment. Something like that will probably drive a wedge between a couple of brothers.
So with Rudi a POW, Adi launched his own brand called Adidas – taking his first and last name and melding them together – and once the war ended and Rudi managed to survive, he started his own company, Puma. The feud between the brothers extended to their entire companies, and it lasted until 2009, when it finally came to an end thanks to a friendly soccer match with one side sporting Adidas gear and the other rocking Puma.
The rivalry was so heated that it actually spread across their hometown in Germany, too, creating an atmosphere not unlike the segregated American South, with businesses who supported Adi refusing service to anyone who preferred Puma, and vice versa.
Kind of puts that time you and your brother got in a fight over who got to be which character in Mario Kart in perspective.