The Interesting History & Evolution of Nike Air Technology

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Cross Training For Runners
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Written by :

David Dack

When the first pair of Nike Air sneakers made its appearance more than 40 years ago, it took the sneaker world by storm. Since then, these air-cushioned running shoes have garnered immense popularity — not just for their superior performance but also as a fashion statement.

Let’s take a look at how Nike Air technology has evolved through the ages and what makes it so incredibly popular today.

What Is Nike Air Technology?

In Nike Air technology, pressurized nitrogen is encapsulated in sturdy but flexible bags called Nike Air sole units. These are placed in the midsole under the forefoot, heel or both those areas.

Made primarily in the U.S., Nike Air is one of the finest examples of sustainable innovation.

The Birth of Nike Air

It all started when aerospace engineer Franklin Rudy came up with a seemingly crazy idea. His theory was that tiny bags of air in the soles of athletic shoes could soften the impact.

In 1977, after facing 23 rejections, Frank presented the idea to Nike co-founder Phil Knight. Phil took a prototype for a test run and was amazed by its smooth ride. Since then, there was no looking back.

Note – Check my guide on when running was invented.

Air Through the 70s

In 1978, Nike rolled out the Tailwind, the first running shoe featuring Air cushioning. The marketing team decided to release just 250 pairs before the actual launch. They were sent to six Hawaiian stores ahead of the Honolulu Marathon. To everyone’s surprise, they sold out in just 24 hours — despite the $50 price tag (about $210 today).

But the Air didn’t survive based on hype alone. In 1978, researchers at the University of Tennessee found that athletes running in Air actually used less energy than in conventional running shoes.

Additional Resource – 20 Fun Facts about running

Air Through the 80s

The 80s were a period of transition. Music, art and design were moving away from a conventional, utilitarian approach to a more creative and inspirational one. People were looking for something new and unique from Nike, whose former glory was somewhat plateauing.

That’s when iconic designer, Tinker Hatfield, came up with the Air Max 1 — a revolutionary new design with visible Air units. For the first time in sporting history, design and engineering were seeing eye to eye.

Not only did this set the stage for innovations in athletic shoes for years to come, but it also bridged the gap between fashion and sport. The Air Max was now a lifestyle.

Air Through the 90s

Hip-hop. Brit-pop. Streetwear. World Wide Web. Those were the predominant buzzwords in the 90s — and they all found a steady companion in the Nike Air.

Throughout the 90s, the Air Max continued its metamorphosis — from the Air Max 90 to the Air Max Plus — each more unique and audacious in design than its predecessor. The internet further fueled the transition of the Air lifestyle into a global phenomenon.

Nike Air Today

Nike continues to improve the Air technology even today. Besides focusing on design and performance, it places great emphasis on sustainability.

For example, the new Nike VaporMax — the latest in Air technology — eliminates the mid-sole foam altogether. Its all-encompassing outsole has heel-to-toe cushioning that offers a gravity-defying bounce.

Get yourself a pair of VaporMax sneakers today to experience the feeling of running on air while scoring high on style.

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