Present at the Creation

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Out Front, October 1997

Present at the Creation
By Paul Kvinta

The Nike Swoosh
“Thirty-five dollars,” Carolyn Davidson says. That’s how much Nike paid her in 1971 to create one of the most recognizable logos in history. But the fledgling shoe company wasn’t being miserly. “It was my first job, and that’s what I charged them,” says Davidson, who was then a 28-year-old Portland graphic artist. “They basically wanted the Adidas stripes,” she says. So Davidson
twiddled with the straight-line theme, drawing a fat stripe with a cut-out circle that Nike employees sneeringly dubbed “the Hole.” A few more days of doodling, and suddenly Davidson had it: Take the stripe, curve it, nestle a lower-case “nike” in its pocket, and voilÇ — the swoosh. Company chairman Phil Knight was underwhelmed. “It’ll grow on me,” he said. (It did.
He eventually had one tattooed on his ankle.) The company later may have felt perhaps just a twinge of guilt, because in 1983 it dumped a pile of Nike stock on Davidson. “It’s split three times,” she says. “I’ve been paid for the job.”

Gore-Tex, that lightweight, rainproof, and breathable amenity that revolutionized life outdoors, was born in 1969 in a fit of anger. Chemical engineer Bob Gore was noodling around with a polymer called polytetrafluoroethylene — which the family company used to make computer cable insulation — when he tried heating rods of the stuff to see if they would stretch, like
other plastics. After days of gently tugging on the heated rods only to have them break, a frustrated Gore violently yanked one. To his surprise, the PTFE suddenly stretched. Subsequent testing revealed the material to be both waterproof and vapor-permeable — a heretofore unheard-of combination. Soon Gore, working with Army engineers, had married PTFE to fabric, and it
wasn’t long before Ma and Pa Gore (the company’s founders) were field testing a Gore-Tex tent in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. “We couldn’t have been more dry and comfortable,” says Vieve Gore. “We played cards by candlelight.” Of course, hail later ripped the tent to shreds, soaking the couple. “But the fabric,” insists Vieve, “was a success.”

Catch and Release
“A game fish is too valuable to be caught only once,” the late fly-fishing pioneer Lee Wulff contended in his 1939 Handbook of Freshwater Fishing. With that, Wulff minted the concept of catch and release, perhaps the most revolutionary innovation in angling since the cane pole. It was a tough sell to Depression-era anglers, however. “Conservation,” notes Wulff’s widow, Joan, “only
works when you have a full stomach.” But Wulff, a New York renaissance type who piloted bush planes, studied art in Paris, and sewed the first fly-fishing vest, never stopped evangelizing. “Everyone’s practicing catch and release!” he proclaimed in an early instructional film — though few actually were. Finally, in 1964, Yellowstone National Park officials designated a
stretch of the Yellowstone River the nation’s first catch-and-release area. By 1986, the year Wulff died, every Saturday-morning bass-fishing show was featuring Skoal-spurting anglers releasing dinner. And none of them looked to be underfed.

The Energy Bar
Homage goes first to explorers lewis and Clark, whose 8,000-mile cross-
continental slog was fueled in part by rock-hard bars of desiccated green-pea soup. This nutritional concept didn’t progress much until the 1960s, when new health-food products such as the Tiger’s Milk bar and the NASA-inspired “space bar” began to offer quick energy in a small, shiny package. But it wasn’t until 1983 that Canadian marathoner Brian Maxwell, sensing the coming
fitness explosion, decided that the emerging army of endurance athletes needed a special bar — one tough enough not to go gooey in the sun’s heat, and one unafraid to sacrifice deliciousness on the altar of maximum energy. “A magic bullet,” Maxwell called it. His first concoction, an unsightly lump of cereal, ground vitamins, and powered milk, “tasted horrible and caused
gas, cramps, everything,” he admits. But three years of tinkering improved the bar, and Maxwell went in search of investors. None bit. Desperate, he started PowerBar by committing his entire savings — $50,000 he’d earned by appearing in commercials for the Xerox Marathon copier. “Looking back, I was pretty lucky,” he says. “They wanted real marathoners. I made the cut.”

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