Rudolf Dassler was a German businessman who founded the sportswear company ‘Puma.’ He is the elder brother of Adolf Dassler, better known as founder of the multinational corporation ‘Adidas.’ As a youngster, Dassler started working at the shoe factory where his father worked. Although born into a poor family, Dassler showed entrepreneurial skills from his early days. It was only after the end of the World War I, that he was able to fulfill his dreams of being an entrepreneur. He teamed up with his brother, Adolf, to start a company for manufacturing shoes. It was named ‘Gebruder Dassler Schuhfabrik.’ They manufactured track shoes and football boots. They achieved moderate success with the business. The brothers were supporters of the ‘Nazi Party,’ formed by Hitler. During World War II, Rudolf Dassler was called for duty, while Adolf Dassler managed the business. When the war was over, there was a fall-out between the brothers, which led to the company being split up. Adolf Dassler started a new company named ‘Adidas,’ while Rudolf Dassler started the company ‘Ruda.’ Later, it was renamed ‘Puma.’ Several renowned athletes and soccer players favored ‘Puma’ and helped the company gain international acceptance. Dassler breathed his last at the age of 76, after a battle with lung cancer. Though ‘Puma’ was established by Rudolf Dassler, the company gained worldwide success only under the leadership of his son, Armin Dassler.
Childhood & Early Life
- Rudolf Dassler was born on March 26, 1898, in Herzogenaurach, Germany. His father, Christoph, worked in a shoe factory. His mother, Paulina Dassler, ran a small laundry service. He had two brothers, Fritz and Adolf, and one sister, Marie. He was affectionately called “Bobby,” as this was the only word he could speak for the first 3 years of his life.
- As a youngster, Dassler joined his father to work in his shoe factory. He was trained as a salesman in a porcelain factory and also in the leather-trading business. From their childhood days, the Dassler brothers displayed entrepreneurial skills. During the early half of the 1920s, they began making sports shoes. They started the business from their mother’s laundry room. It was founded by Adolf Dassler, and Rudolf Dassler joined him in 1924.
- Rudolf Dassler started his career by joining his brother in his shoe-making business. They formed a company and named it ‘Gebruder Dassler Schuhfabrik,’ or the ‘Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory.’ It was the only company to manufacture sports shoes at the time. The sports shoes manufactured by them became highly popular.
- During the 1936 ‘Summer Olympics,’ the Dassler brothers drove to Bavaria with a suitcase full of sports shoes. They persuaded renowned athlete Jesse Owens to wear their shoes for the games. Owens accepted the offer, and won four gold medals. The athletes who wore the shoes supplied by them won seven gold medals, five silver medals, and five bronze medals, altogether. With this, the ‘Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory’ became highly famous.
- During the early 1930s, Dassler and his brother joined the ‘Nazi Party.’ They were followers of Hitler. During World War II, Rudolf Dassler was called for duty, while Adolf Dassler managed the company. Following his return from the warfront, Rudolf Dassler had a fall-out with his brother. Nobody knows the exact reason for the quarrel. Some believe that Rudolf Dassler had suspected that his brother had provided information to the American troops, which had led to his capture and imprisonment.
- When the rift between the brothers intensified, they decided to part ways. In 1948, they split the business. Rudolf Dassler formed his new company and named it ‘Ruda.’ Later, he changed the name to ‘Puma.’ Adolf Dassler started his company under the name ‘Adidas.’ The companies were established in Herzogenaurach, on the opposite sides of the river Aurach.
- In 1948, during a first football match after the end of the ‘World War II,’ several members of the West German national football team wore shoes manufactured by ‘Puma.’ During the leadership of Rudolf Dassler, the company was a local one. It grew to gain international recognition only after the management was taken over by his son, Armin Dassler.
Family & Personal Life
- In 1928, Rudolf Dassler married Friedl Strasser. They had two sons, Armin and Gerd.
- Dassler suffered from lung cancer in the final years of his life. He succumbed to the illness on October 27, 1974. He was 76 years old at that time. After his death, his son, Armin Dassler, took over the management of ‘Puma.’ In 1989, Dassler’s sons sold 72% of their stake in the company to Swiss business Cosa Liebermann SA.
- It is believed that a misunderstanding had caused the rift between the Dassler brothers. During a bomb attack in 1943, Adolf Dassler and his wife had climbed into a bomb shelter, which was already occupied by Rudolf Dassler and his family. On entering the shelter, Adolf had said, “The dirty bastards are back again,” referring to the war planes. Rudolf had misunderstood it as a reference to himself and his family. This incident is said to have caused irreparable differences between the brothers.
- Herzogenaurach, where both ‘Adidas’ and ‘Puma’ have their headquarters, is a town that has been affected by the family feud of the Dasslers. The people of the town are loyal to one of the two brands. The rivalry between the two companies and their supporters was put to an end in 2009, with a friendly game of soccer.