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Nike Air Max History: The Fascinating Origins of This Iconic Sneaker

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Nike, originally known as Blue Ribbon Sports, was founded in 1964 by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight. The track-and-field coach, along with his former student, opened their first retail outlet in 1966.

These days Nike is a household name, but many still don’t know the Nike Air Max history. The Air Max line changed the footwear landscape with each new release. Each shoe that Nike released in this line has a story to tell and paints a picture of how a simple sports shoe changed the sneaker game.

So keep reading to find out more about the Nike Air Max evolution.

Nike Tailwind

The Air Max line would never have been created if it wasn’t for the Nike Tailwind. The Tailwind was released in 1978 and was the start of Nike cushioning the soles of their shoes with air.

Frank Rudy, an aeronautical engineer who worked for NASA’s space program, pitched the idea of using air as cushioning. The idea stems from the work he was doing at NASA.

Adding air to help cushion the shoes changed the game for Nike and paved the path for the Nike Air Max line.

Nike Air Max 1

The Nike Air Max timeline starts with the design of the Nike Air Max 1’s.

Tinker Hatfield, lauded as the founder of the Air Max line, drew inspiration from the architecture found at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The Centre Pompidou is still famous for having the structure wrapped around the exterior of the building. Hatfield, who was a trained architect, saw how the building used an inside-out approach.

Hatfield incorporated this inside-out approach when designing the Air Max 1’s. This is why the Air Max line has a visible air window.

These shoes are so iconic that it’s even featured in Fortnight, the popular third-person shooter battle royal game.

Nike Air Max 95

By 1995 Tinker Hatfield wanted his designers to do more. He wanted a story to go with the shoe design, and designer Sergio Lozano rose to the challenge.

Lozano considered how water erodes the earth and how the strata below rise to the surface. This visual of layer combined with the anatomy of the human foot as it’s layered with muscles and flesh game Lozano the perfect inspiration to design the Air Max 95’s.

If you’re looking to buy some Nike Air Max 95s and own a piece of history, take a look here.

Nike Air Racer Max

The Air Max 95 wasn’t the only new design to release in the middle of the 1990s. While the 95’s took the line in a more lifestyle-inspired direction, the Air Racer Max was geared toward runners.

Since these shoes were designed with competitive running in mind, it features a mesh upper with a flatter sole. This allowed the runner to position their foot more closely to the pavement.

Nike Air Max 97

The Air Max line was built with speed in mind. This is why people believed the designers of the Air Max 97 used the Japanese bullet trains as inspiration for this shoe.

While this makes for a good story, Nike has denied these rumors. Christian Tresser designed the Air Max 97 with ripples of water in mind, not a high-speed train.

Nike Air Max 98

In 1998 Nike did a 180 after the sleek design found on the Aor Max 97s. The Nike Air Max 98 featured heavily padded mesh and leather uppers along with the tooling found on the 97s.

While these shoes were bulkier than their predecessors, they still used a panel-laden upper similar to that of the 95 and 97. These panels were initially inspired by the striations on the walls of the Grand Canyon.

Nike Air Max Plus

These shoes were basically the clunkier version of the Air Max 97. The Air Max Plus stole the show after its release in 1998.

Designer Sean McDowell took inspiration from Florida, his old stomping ground, to help him design these shoes. The palm tree-inspired overlays and gradients are meant to remind wearers of a beautiful Florida sunset.

These shoes also debuted Nike’s new Tuned Air technology. This technology used molded air bubbles along with rubber hemispheres in the sole of the shoe to provide extra support.

Nike Air Tuned Max

Nike closed out the 90’s with the Air Tuned Max. Visually, these shoes are a mismatch of all the trends and aesthetics of the 1990s. While the design may not have stood the test of time, these shoes were the first to have a full-length Tuned Air system. The Nike Air Max Plus debuted this technology, but the Air Tuned Max perfected it.

Nike Air Max 270

While Air Max shoes have been worn as casual sneakers for years at this point, the Air Max 270 was the first Air Max that was designed with casual wear in mind. These shoes came in at 32mm tall with maximum cushioning to ensure you can be stylish and comfortable at the same time.

These shoes gave a nod to all the shoes in the Air Max line that came before it.

Nike Air Max 2090

In 2020 Nike celebrated 30 years of the Air Max 90. To mark this momentous occasion, they used the silhouette of the Air Max 90 to craft the futuristic Air Max 2090. This shoe combined the style and aesthetic of the Air Max shoes that came before with the newest Nike Air Max technology.

Know the Nike Air Max History

The Nike Air Max history is not only that of an iconic sneaker; it’s a piece of world history. Nike drew inspiration from the real world while creating these shoes, and they weren’t afraid to bend some rules along the way. These shoes have stood the test of time and have become some of the most popular Nike shoes available today.

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