Sports Biz with Darren Rovell

Nike: Is The Name Original Or Cold War Copy?

Nike-Hercules surface to air missile, Bridgeport, Washington

So as many of you know, my one-hour documentary on Nike premiered on Tuesday. I received many nice notes from readers and a couple strange ones. The craziest group of notes were from people who brought up the fact that Nike actually wasn't a completely original name at the time Blue Ribbon Sports' employee Jeff Johnson came up with in 1971.

I've heard the missile comment made a couple times, but it honestly went over my head. But after the show I got a couple notes from readers, including one from Susan Alesantrino, who claims that Nike not only took the name, but the logo as well:

"About 1960, there were underground missile silos all around the United States. We live about an hour south of Pittsburgh and there was a rumor that one such missile silo was at our local airport. There was a billboard at the entrance that said 'Nike' and there on the billboard was that familiar swoosh only I don't know if the Air Force called it that then, there may have been a subtle difference in the design, but it was there on the sign...The silos have been removed many years ago and I guess it has been forgotten about, but I do remember when Nike shoes came out and used the name and the swoosh, I thought, "That's not big original idea. It has been used before."

So I did a little research on this. Project Nike started in 1944 and between 1954 and 1974, there were these Nike missile sites armed with surface-to-air missiles to protect against a Cold War invasion. At its height, there were about 300 of them. The inspiration for the name was the same as the shoe company's inspiration--for the Greek god of Victory. At the time, Nike was being put on shoes, many of the missile sites had been closed down.

The claim that Nike copied something similar to the Nike missile site logo seems a little bit of a stretch. Partly because the fact that it's pretty well documented that Carolyn Davidson designed Nike's logo from scratch and the fact that nowhere on the Internet can I find any Nike missile logo that looks at all like the Nike swoosh. Nonetheless, I've sent some e-mails to the Nike missile historians.

Questions?  Comments?

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