PORTLAND -- When Bill Bowerman's family began a remodeling project, little did they know they’d unearth the single item most responsible for the launch and success of the Nike empire.
“Everyone, including Mrs. Bowerman thought it was thrown away," said Scott Reames, Nike’s Director of Archives. “We never expected to see it decades later.”
“It” is the original waffle iron that Bowerman -- a Nike co-founder -- used to make the soles of sneakers worn by the athletes he coached at the University of Oregon. The waffle iron was a wedding gift, and Bill’s initial experiment failed when he accidentally glued the iron shut. But the door to his idea remained open.
“He never stopped trying to perfect the shoe” said his daughter-in-law, Melissa Bowerman. Now the co-coach of the Condon-Wheeler track & field team, it was Melissa’s idea to contact Nike to gauge their interest in the waffle iron.
“They got the iron, and we got some track and field equipment for Bill’s old high school,” she said. “We’re happy and Nike is happy.”
And now the waffle iron -- along with many of the sneakers Bowerman first experimented with that were buried under a carport -- are now on display at Nike’s Steve Prefontaine Hall.
“To be able to show this to our current employees and get into Bill’s mind through the most iconic piece we have is irreplaceable,” said Reames.
Bill Bowerman and his waffle iron have, literally and figuratively, left a lasting impression.