Nike, originally known as Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS), was founded by University of Oregon track athlete Philip Knight and his coach Bill Bowerman in January 1964. The company initially operated as a distributor for Japanese shoe maker Onitsuka Tiger (now ASICS), making most sales at track meets out of Knight’s automobile. According to Otis Davis, a student athlete whom Bowerman coached at the University of Oregon, who later went on to win two gold medals at the 1960 Summer Olympics, Bowerman made the first pair of Nike shoes for him, contradicting a claim that they were made for Phil Knight. Says Davis, “I told Tom Brokaw that I was the first. I don’t care what all the billionaires say. Bill Bowerman made the first pair of shoes for me. People don’t believe me. In fact, I didn’t like the way they felt on my feet. There was no support and they were too tight. But I saw Bowerman make them from the waffle iron, and they were mine.

In 1964, in its first year in business, BRS sold 1,300 pairs of Japanese running shoes grossing $8,000. By 1965 the fledgling company had acquired a full-time employee, and sales had reached $20,000. In 1966, BRS opened its first retail store, located at 3107 Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, California next to a beauty salon, so its employees no longer needed to sell inventory from the back of their cars. In 1967, due to rapidly increasing sales, BRS expanded retail and distribution operations on the East Coast, in Wellesley, Massachusetts. By 1971, the relationship between BRS and Onitsuka Tiger was nearing an end. BRS prepared to launch its own line of footwear, which would bear the Swoosh newly designed by Carolyn Davidson.[12] The Swoosh was first used by Nike on June 18, 1971, and was registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on January 22, 1974. In 1976, the company hired John Brown and Partners, based in Seattle, as its first advertising agency. The following year, the agency created the first “brand ad” for Nike, called “There is no finish line”, in which no Nike product was shown. By 1980, Nike had attained a 50% market share in the U.S. athletic shoe market, and the company went public in December of that year.