Frank Rudy: the mad scientist

Frank Rudy, an aerospace engineer, found that the work he was doing for NASA could also be of practical use on the ground. He was able to encapsulate dense gases into rubber membranes creating a gas or “AIR” bag. The rubber molding processes he and his NASA colleagues were working on allowed for the creation of a hollowed-out midsole to fit the air bag.

His intuition was to use air as a cushioning system for running shoes, incorporating it inside the “Air” bag he created to prevent it from escaping outside. This was an extraordinary revolution because, at that time, all the sneakers were made of foam cushion technology which didn’t guarantee a stability and durability.

After a couple of “No” by other sport companies, in April 1977 Nike realized the potential of Air technology.

At first meeting with the Company, Frank brought a pair of Nikes modified by his own hands featuring a midsole air cushion system. Intrigued by the idea, Phil Knight (Nike’s CEO) tried them for a run; after a 15-minute road test he came back with precise ideas: Frank didn’t understand anything about shoes, but the sensations experienced in that race were worth a try.

In 1978, in occasion of Honolulu’s marathon some pairs were distributed to a bunch of athletes.

At the end of the race the shoes blew up in various part, but the athletes decided to keep and restore them because the experience was one of a kind.

After a lot of unfortunate attempts, produced in 1979 the “Tailwind” was released as the first sneaker in large quantity with the Nike air technology.

Tinker Hatfield: the architect

The Air technology became a real thing.

From a strange and crazy idea, now a sneaker with the Air was on the market. At some point this Revolution made a step up thanks to a young talented architect that took it to another level.

Tinker Hatfield joined Nike in 1981 after graduating from the University of Oregon School of Architecture. In 1985 he began working exclusively on sneaker design for Nike.

But was in 1987 that he brought the light to the future.

After visiting the Centre Georges Pompidou, Tinker was caught by the Idea that was the main essence of the design’s center: To make visible what is not.

But, how to put that idea on a sneaker?

The answer was the designe of the Air Max 1, the first Nike sneaker with a translucent bubble sole displaying the Air bag unit.

So, the “Air” that was captured by Frank and hided in the midsole of the sneakers was took by Tinker to be the absolute protagonist of the design, at first, of one single sneaker and then, for an entire department of Nike.

That’s how the Revolution-Air started!