A History of the Nike Swoosh Logo

You’ve seen the shoe, and you know the Swoosh — but chances are you don’t know much about the history of the Nike logo, let alone that a woman was behind the iconic design.

The memorable emblem was created in 1971 when a Portland State University graphic design student named Carolyn Davidson was approached by Nike’s founders Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman, who explained to her that they needed a logo for their soon-to-be launched sneaker brand.

At the time, Knight, a track runner, and Bowerman, a coach, had recently changed the brand’s name to Nike Inc. after originally calling it Blue Ribbon Sports when the brand launched in 1964.

In a 2011 interview with “The Oregonian,” Davidson shared that she agreed to take on the project, charging Knight and Bowerman $2 an hour for her work with the final invoice coming to just $35.

Nike Rise store in China
An exterior view of the new Nike Rise store in China.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Nike

Davidson explained in the interview that Knight wanted something that would be as significant as Adidas’ Three Stripes.

“Oh, he loved Adidas,” Davidson said of Knight to “The Oregonian.” “That was part of my problem. He loved the Adidas stripes, he loved them. Well, when you really love something, try to get somebody to look over here.”

When it came time to show Bowerman and Knight what she had been working on, Davidson presented six different logos, but the curved checkmark caught their eye.

Nike's Air Force 1 "Valentine's Day"
Nike’s Air Force 1 “Valentine’s Day”

Initially, Knight expressed that he didn’t “love” the design, adding that “maybe” it would grow on him. Of course, it eventually did. On June 18 of that year, the U.S. Patent Office recorded the Swoosh.

Though she was originally paid less than $50 for her work, Davidson has since been compensated through stock options, she told the newspaper.

Through the years, the Nike Swoosh has evolved. When it was first introduced, the logo featured the thick check with Nike written in all caps sitting atop. Later, in 1995, Nike adopted the lone Swoosh, which is seen at most storefronts.

Since its debut, the athletic powerhouse has reigned supreme as it offers a plethora of innovative sneakers liked by athletes, celebrities and everyday people. Nike has been able to remain one of the world’s most sought after footwear brands thanks to its many collaborations, compelling marketing and re-releases of beloved sneakers.

Earlier this month, Nike debuted images of the Air Force 1s reimagined with a romantic twist, dubbed “Valentine’s Day.” The kicks feature the model’s signature white leather uppers paired with a cream midsole. The shoes also have red heart details on the outer-facing portions. This playful colorway of the modern classic shoe will retail for $110 and will drop in February 2021.

Also in Dec., Nike and Jordan Brand announced a six-year deal with the University of California, Los Angeles. Starting in July 2021, the company will be the school’s exclusive athletic footwear and apparel provider. Nike will supply the school’s teams with uniforms, as well as shoes, clothing and equipment. Men’s and women’s basketball student-athletes, as well as those in the football program, will be outfitted by Jordan Brand.

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