- Exactly 70 years ago Adolf and Rudolf Dassler had a quarrel, which led the brothers to separate their company into Adidas and Puma.
- The dispute completely divided the inhabitants of Herzogenaurach, the town where their companies were both founded, and still has a huge impact on the area today.
- To mark the 70th anniversary of the Dassler dispute, Business Insider visited Herzogenaurach to see how the two brands still dominate and divide the landscape today.
Exactly 70 years ago, Adolf Dassler founded the sports brand Adidas — a mere year after his brother, Rudolf Dassler, created competitor brand, Puma.
The two world-renowned brands can be traced back to a now legendary family quarrel, without which neither Puma nor Adidas would exist today.
Originally, the brothers worked together on two-striped sneakers and, in 1919, the duo founded Gebrüder Dassler, Geda for short his shoe factory would take them right through the Second World War.
However, Geda ended abruptly in 1948 — to this day historians are baffled as to what led the Dassler brothers to part ways. Even when Adolf and Rudolf died, they were buried at opposite ends of the town cemetery.
Little did the brothers know that their rivalry would change the sporting goods industry forever, nor that it would still be profoundly shaping the small town of Herzogenaurach, where both companies are based, to this day.
To mark the 70th anniversary of the Dassler dispute and the founding of Puma, Business Insider visited the "cradle of the sporting goods industry" as historians call the town, to see how the two brands still dominate and divide the landscape today.
The history of Puma and Adidas began in this house
Brothers Rudolf and Adolf Dassler sewed their first sneakers in the laundry room of their parents' Herzogenaurach home. By 1927, Sportfarbrik Gebrüder Dassler, Geda for short, had grown to 12 employees and the brothers were forced to find other premises.
Their big breakthrough came at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin: the athletes they equipped received seven gold medals and five silver and bronze medals between them.
"The company would probably have gone through the ceiling, but then the war came," said historian Manfred Welker in an interview with Business Insider.
After the Second World War, there was a split between Rudolf and Adolf
During the Second World War, Geda was converted into an weaponry factory and Rudolf was drafted while Adolf stayed at home.
After Rudolf returned from the war following one year of imprisonment, shoe production started again — but in January 1948, a rift formed between the brothers that would remain until their deaths.
To this day nobody knows what caused of the dispute. Not even their grandchildren know, although there are many theories.
One theory is that, because Rudolf had fled the front in 1945 and was arrested on his way back, Adolf gave the US occupiers information about his brother to get him out of the way.
According to another theory, Adolf was jealous of his brother — something was rumoured to have happened between Rudolf and his brother's wife, and he was known as a womaniser.
The dispute between the Dassler brothers didn't just affect their employees — it affected the whole town
Hardly anyone in Herzogenaurach could escape the effect of the family's quarrels.
"At that time, at least one person in every family was employed by one of the two companies," said historian Welker.
The Dasslers' dispute split Herzogenaurach into two camps
The Aurach river divided Adidas, which moved north, and Puma, which moved south.
The battle to dominate Herzogenaurach even spilled out onto the soccer pitch
For years there was an Adidas soccer club and another for Puma: 1. FC Herzogenaurach are still sponsored by Puma, where Adidas sponsored ASV Herzogenaurach.
The athletes didn't have to worry about anything — from shoes and bags to jerseys, everything was provided.
"There's hardly anything left of that today," said Welker.
With the withdrawal of Dassler's heirs from Puma and Adidas in the 1990s, the companies' involvement in the town also declined.
To date there are still Puma and Adidas families
It's said that the Dassler family quarrels were so divisive that the Puma and Adidas families went to separate bakeries, had their own separate butchers, as well as their own separate pubs.
"The idea of Adidas employees going into a shop that Puma employees frequented had never crossed anyone's mind before," recalled Michael Dassler, the grandson of Puma's founder. "It really was the case that the river separated the city."
His childhood was marked by the Dassler dispute — the contact between his grandfather Rudolf and his brother was non-existent.
"In our home, the name Adidas was never mentioned," he said.
Outside the Dassler family, other families either identified with Puma or Adidas — neither both. Married couples, both of whom worked for different brands, were virtually non-existent.
The brand logos can be found everywhere in the town
The two camps didn't mollify until the death of the Dassler brothers at the end of the 1970s. Dassler now runs a winery on the market square, visited by both Puma and Adidas employees alike.
There are still Puma and Adidas families in Herzogenaurach today, although the friction has eased into a less aggressive rivalry — the companies have become more international and only a fraction of the workforce has grown up in the town.
"Whether your parents work at Adidas or Puma is clear by what you're wearing," said 18-year-old schoolgirl Johanna Weidhaus. "But there are no disputes about it — it's all over the top."
Dress code divides the city into two camps even today
When you walk through Herzogenaurach today, the number of people wearing branded clothing really is striking — from clothing to shoes, almost every inhabitant, young or old, is wearing either Puma or Adidas.
"If someone comes in through the door, your gaze still wanders to their shoes," said Mayor German Hacker. That was an old habit in his generation. Herzogenaurach is also referred to as "the town of the lowered gaze".
Even today, employees of the two companies will tease each other about their clothes when they meet on the street, but nowadays it's more to poke fun.
Yet, the two brands are rarely seen in combination — you can get through a whole playground of kids dressed in one brand from head to toe.
In addition to the fact that the two companies are rooted in two different parts of the town, this could also be down to the fact that both have two large outlets in Herzogenaurach.
The mayor always wears both brands — for diplomatic reasons
The unofficial dress code in the town occasionally presents Mayor German Hacker with diplomatic challenges.
He actually comes from a Puma family — as he says: "My aunt was a Puma veteran. As a child, I only had Puma clothes — wearing an Adidas jacket would have been unthinkable."
Today he always takes care to wear both brands on casual occasions, in order to remain neutral.
He even went so far that he wore two different football shoes at a friendly match between the two companies: Puma on the left and Adidas on the right.
The rivalry fuelled the competition — Adidas and Puma rose to world brands
"Of course, the two brothers spurred each other on. The mutual competition to be faster, better and bigger has also boosted business," said historian Manfred Welker.
After the death of Rudolf in 1974 and Adi in 1978, their sons took over.
Since the 1990s, both Dassler companies are public limited companies and are no longer in family ownership.
Today, Adidas headquarters employs almost 5,700 people from 100 countries
The company is worth around $51 billion on the stock exchange, making it number two in the industry behind Nike.
Even Puma's headquarters is still in Herzogenaurach, just under ten minutes on foot from Adidas
Around 1,300 employees work here today and the company is worth around $ 6.95 billion on the stock exchange.
Since the founding of Puma and Adidas in 1948 and 1949, the population of Herzogenaurach has more than tripled from just under 7,000 to 24,500.
With the rise of Puma and Adidas into global corporations, Herzogenaurach has become more international. Overall, the rivalry is still felt — but it is not as dogged as it once was.
Between the headquarters of Puma and Adidas, a new district has emerged
The success of the two companies ensures prosperity and gushing tax revenue. In 2017, the city received a total of $65 million in taxes, $34 million of which was trade tax and the remainder of which was income tax — well above average for a small town.
With the growth of the companies, the living space in the city is becoming scarce. "Rent and fuel prices are rising at an incredible rate," said a taxi driver.
To remedy the situation, the new "Herzo-Base" development area is being built in the northeast of the city, where 2,000 people are expected to live in the future.
It's a family district where you'll find employees of Adidas and Puma living side by side.
When you walk through the streets, all of which are named after Olympic cities, you can also see one or two stickers of each of the two brands, embellishing garbage cans and cars.
The city benefits enormously from the rivalry of the companies
With the advertising revenue, the town is able to promote its local sports clubs.
Puma has built a running track along the Aurach
Puma is also the main sponsor of the annual culture festival.
Adidas and Puma shape the cityscape
Every four years, Adidas replaces the giant replica of the World Cup ball with a new version.
In 2009, the two companies buried their differences with a friendly game
After decades of conflict, the two companies made symbolic peace with a friendly match in 2009.
The game, which took place on United Nations World Peace Day, was the first joint initiative of the two billion-strong companies after years of silence.
The teams were mixed as a sign of reconciliation — Adidas boss, Herbert Hainer, and Puma CEO, Jochen Zeitz, also took part.
But even during the friendly match, the two brands left nothing to the competition: from the jerseys to the ball, everything had the logos of both companies on it.
While they may be friendly on the pitch, they very much remain rivals — at least on the market.