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Bill Bowerman

Bill Bowerman

American runner, track and field coach, and businessman

William Jay ‘Bill’ Bowerman is known in the American sports history for being one of the best American track and field coaches and the co-owner and prime designer of the athletic shoe company Nike, Inc. Bowerman was attracted to the game of football since he was in his high school and used to play for his team in Medford and Seattle schools. The recognition of his talent only encouraged him to pursue it further and he enrolled himself at the University of Oregon where he played for the university team. But he discovered his inclination towards coaching rather than playing and he started to teach biology and coach at the same time at Franklin High School in Portland, later shifting to Medford. He took a break from what he loved the most to serve his country during the Pearl Harbor attack and after serving four years in the American army he came back to teaching and coaching again. He became the head track coach at the University of Oregon and introduced many innovative techniques that helped athletes including bringing the concept of ‘jogging’ as a fitness technique to America from his travels to New Zealand. He wrote many books on jogging that sensationalized the idea in America and while he was propagating it, he co-founded America’s prominent athletic shoe making company called Nike, Inc. He was the head designer for the company and dedicated his life in creating shoes that helped athletes to perform better in the field.

Childhood & Early Life

  • Bill Bowerman was born in Portland, Oregon to Jay Bowerman, who was the 13th Governor of Oregon. His parents got divorced when he was only 2 years old and he went on to live with his mother in Fossil.
  • Bowerman went to Medford and Seattle schools and did his high school from Medford where he played for the state champion football team. He then attended the University of Oregon to pursue journalism as well as play football.
  • His first job after finishing university was to teach biology and coach the football team at the Franklin High School, Portland. In the following year, he shifted to Medford to teach as well as coach football.


  • In 1941, during the Pearl Harbor attack, he joined the American army as a 2nd lieutenant and was assigned to Fort Lawton, Washington. In the following year he was sent to Camp Hale in Leadville, Colorado.
  • He was promoted to commander of the 86th Regiment's First Battalion at the rank of Major in 1944 when his division arrived in Italy. The next year, he received four Bronze Star Medals and a Silver Star for his service.
  • In 1945, after finishing stint with the American army, Bowerman came back to teaching and coaching at Medford High School.
  • In 1948, he became the head track coach at the University of Oregon.
  • In 1962, Bowerman served as the coach to the world setting 4-mile relay team of University of Oregon. The team consisted of members like Archie San Romani, Dyrol Burleson, Vic Reeve, and Keith Forman.
  • Around the same time, he discovered jogging as an effective fitness technique on his trip to New Zealand. When he came back to the United States he started spreading the word by writing articles, books and programs on jogging.
  • Bowerman started an athletic footwear distribution company called Blue Ribbon with Phil Knight, which was later known as Nike, Inc in 1964. He designed the shoes solely made for athletic purposes.
  • In 1966, after getting influenced with the concept of ‘jogging’, Bowerman’s 90-page book was published under the title ‘Jogging’, which he wrote along with a famous cardiologist W.E. Harris. The book was responsible for sensationalizing ‘Jogging’ in America.
  • Whilst designing for his shoe company, Bowerman designed the famous ‘Nike Cortez’ in 1968, which instantly became a hit amongst sportsmen. The style still remains Nike’s biggest selling iconic design.
  • Bowerman built an American running team along with Phil Knight and Geoff Hollister, called ‘Athletics West’ in 1977. This effort gave America its very first formal definitive running program for the young budding athletes.

Major Work

  • While Bowerman is known for his innovative coaching techniques, his prominent contribution has been the formation of the famous shoe company, Nike, Inc. He was the top designer for the company and gave designs like ‘Nike Cortez’, ‘Moon Shoe’, etc.

Awards & Achievements

  • Bill Bowerman was included in the National Distance Running Hall of Fame, the USA National Track and Field Hall of Fame, the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame, and Oregon’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
  • The Bowerman award was created in 2009 by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. The award is presented to the most outstanding male and female field athletes.

Personal Life & Legacy

  • Bowerman met his wife Barbara Young in his high school in Medford. They got married in 1936 and had two sons together, Jon and William J. Bowerman was born.
  • Bowerman died peacefully in his sleep on Christmas Eve in 1999 in his home in Fossil, Oregon.


  • It is known that Bowerman was obsessed with the idea of shaving weight off his athletes' running shoes while designing shoes for his company Nike, Inc.
  • While designing, he used to work in a small, stuffy space, using adhesive and solvents with toxic components that affected him badly and gave him severe nerve damage.


February 19, 1911
Bill Bowerman was born in Portland.


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