Germany's Biggest Business Family War

The rivalry that helped the two brothers to establish two major sports companies- Adidas and Puma

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Adidas and Puma may be among the most recognized brands in the world, but neither might exist if not for a bitter rivalry between two brothers from a little-known village in Germany.


In the 1920, Adolf (Adi) Dassler, a soft-spoken sports fanatic who spent hours working on shoe designs in his workshop. He was making a sports shoe from simple materials in his home workshop in the Bavarian enclave of Herzogenaurach. Four years later, his brother Rudolf Dassler joined the company.

The two brothers set up their first company together in 1924 under the name Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory), their father was also a shoemaker. The division of labor was simple - Adi made the shoes and Rudi sold them. Rudolf was a natural salesman, and doggedly determined to sell shoes. He began taking orders from local schools and sports clubs.

Puma founder Rudolf Dassler as a recreational boxer in year 1929.

As the Nazi party came in power so did Hilter’s emphasis on the importance of sports. Sports were an essential element of Nazi doctrine. They used athletic competition as a way to exert their influence. The Dasslers were the perfect match for this ideology. Business exploded after the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

The Fight

The origins of the split between Rudolf and Adolf are hard to pinpoint, but an Allied bomb attack on Herzogenaurach in 1943 illustrated the growing tension. Adi and his wife climbed into a bomb shelter that Rudolf and his family were already in. “The dirty bastards are back again,” Adolf said, apparently referring to the Allied warplanes. Rudolf was convinced that his brother meant him and his family. The damage was never repaired. However this is not the only version of their reasons for the separation. Some say that with the end of the war, the brother Adi had delivered to the Allies. Adolf had always been the one who wanted to get ahead, and Rudolf the pragmatist. After the war work dried up and they found themselves in direct competition. Adolf was already making sports shoes and he became increasingly convinced that there was space for his business to expand into other areas.

Adidas has its headquarters on the Herzo Base, a new town of Herzogenaurach, while Puma’s is at the northern ring road of Herzogenaurach.

Where did Puma go wrong?

Adidas experienced its international breakthrough in 1954. One of the critical failures for Puma was that Rudolf had an argument with the coach of the German soccer team, and that allowed Adidas an opening before the 1954 World Cup, where, completely against all odds, West Germany won against Hungary, Adidas were now associated with the world champions.

Adi Dassler was all over the newspaper; soon he was everywhere. And the Adidas black boots with the stripes were on all the players. From that moment on they received letters from around the world from people wanting to sell Adidas in other countries.

Rudolf died in 1974 and Adolf in 1978. The two are buried in the cemetery of Herzogenaurach, though(of course) on opposite sides of the land.