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Linking Young Minds Together
     Volume 2 Issue 43 | November 11 , 2007|


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Adidas vs. Puma:
Origins of a rivalry
between brothers


The German town of Herzogenaurach has been split in half, thanks to a 60-year-old family feud. Each side has its own bakers, butchers, bars and even schools. What is equally remarkable in this small, southern German town is that the feud also led to the creation of two famous companies - Puma and Adidas - and, as a result, the birth of the modern sportswear industry.

It's quite a crazy story because in this little town, Herzogenaurach, a cobble stoned medieval town, exists two of the world's biggest sports companies. One on each side of the little river that runs through it

This is the story of Rudolf and Adolf Dassler, the feuding brothers who wanted to make the world's first lightweight, but durable, sports shoe.

Trained as a baker, Adolf 'Adi' Dassler started to produce his own sports shoes in his mother's wash kitchen after his return from World War I. His father, Christoph, who worked in a shoe-factory, and the brothers Zehlein, who produced handmade spikes in their blacksmith's shop, supported Dassler in starting his own business. In 1924, his brother Rudolf Dassler joined the business. At the 1928 Olympics, the company equipped several athletes. But these two had contrasting characters. One of them was a little bit more ebullient and back-slapping and loudmouth than the other and so they complemented each other well. But during the Second World War, these differences had turned into very large arguments also because of the fact that one of the brothers appeared to be much closer to the Nazi cause than the other.

The result was that the brothers never spoke again. In 1948 Rudolf, or Rudi, set up his rival firm, named it “Ruda” from Rudolf's Ru and Dassler's Da, before changing to “Puma”, on one side of the river; Adolf, or Adi, stayed on the hill and shortened his name to form “Adidas.”

The town was split down the middle too. There were questions of personal loyalty, of politics, but also, this was post-war Germany. Jobs were scarce and the brothers ran the only successful businesses in town. It was kind of a real war in Herzogenaurach town. There was an Adidas butcher and a Puma butcher. Also, the restaurants were split, so there was a typical Adidas hotel or Adidas restaurant and the other guys didn't want to go there

The origins of the split between Rudolf and Adolf are hard to pinpoint, but an Allied bomb attack on Herzogenaurach during World War II in 1943 illustrated the growing tension. Adi and his wife climbed into a bomb shelter that Rudolf and his family was already in.

"The dirty bastards are back again," Adolf said, apparently referring to the Allied warplanes. Rudolf was convinced that his brother meant him and his family. The damage was never repaired.

The Legacy
The town remains obsessed with the brothers' story. In fact, a whole museum has been dedicated to them. The museum traces their history from their fledgling business in 1924 in their mother's laundry room. It has the bicycle-powered machine which they would pedal to motor a cutter to trim the leather. As it was just after World War I, they used whatever they could scavenge - including parachutes and army helmets. Even in death, Rudi and Adi were not reconciled. At the local cemetery, their graves are about as far apart as you can get.

But their legacy means, in sporting parlance, which Herzogenaurach punches above its weight. As embittered rivals, the estranged brothers led their respective companies to the top of the world, Muhammad Ali, Franz Beckenbauer and Zinédine Zidane became legends in the three stripes of Adidas while soccer god Pelé and Boris Becker achieved global fame in Pumas.



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