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Nike Air Tech

When people think of Nike they picture Air Force 1, Air Jordan, and Air Max. All these sneakers have one major design element in common: Nike Air. Air cushioning tech is synonymous with Nike, but it wasn’t always that way.

Former NASA engineer, Marion Frank Rudy developed the air cushioning technology, and Nike took interest. The idea of air cushioning technology was introduced to the sneaker world in 1978, when Nike embedded plastic air bubbles into their midsoles. The first silhouette to boast this tech was the Nike Air Tailwind, a running shoe with Nike Air encased in the midsole.

Nike Air Tailwind

While the air bubbles were implement in iconic silhouettes like the AF 1 and AJ 1, it wasn’t until 1987 when Tinker Hatfield jumped into the sneaker design game that the tech really took off. Hatfield changed with game by exposing the Nike Air bubble in the Nike Air Max 1.

To pull this off, the whole tech had to be reengineered. Initially the seams were on the sides, but to fit with Hatfield’s design the seams had to be moved to the top of the unit to offer a better view inside the bubble.

Nike Air Max 1 Vintage ad

The Air Max 1 was born at a time when Nike was trying to trim down the size of the air units to reduce production cost, but Tinker went in the opposite direction. He admired Le Centres George Pompidou in Paris, and the museum’s inside out construction inspired Tinker to show off the inner workings of the Nike Air tech. The first colorway, which was red, white, and grey, was also inspired by Le Centres George Pompidou. The window in the midsole also served a technical purpose in that it allowed the air unit to expand instead of being trapped in the midsole.

When Hatfield created the first Air Max, people went nuts over the visible tech. Nike had been telling customers for years about the benefits of air units, but until the first Air Max it was just talk to everyone. Once the encapsulated air units were exposed to the world that was that.

What was once a contemporary running sneaker, is now a stable in the lineup for sneakerheads who favor these fantastic runners for their style and heritage. Nike has dressed the Air Max 1 in mesh, leather, suede, and more, but the iconic silhouette has been a favorite of sneakerheads across the world from the U.S. to Japan.

Soon it became Nike’s goal to add bigger and bigger air bubbles every year until they could create sneaker whose sole was all air. Each year designers would subtract foam where they could and put in a larger air bubble. In 1995 Nike dropped the Air Max 95 which was the first to have an air unit in the forefoot, and is probably one of the most popular silhouettes of the line. In 1997, the Air Max 97 was the first to achieve a full-length air unit, and for the most part, the Air Max line stuck with the full-length design because foam breaks down over time.

Nike will continue to fine tune their Air Max tech, and they mix it up with their latest innovations like Flywire and Flyknit. Tweaks such as these have kept this legendary line relevant since 1987, and the people at Nike strive to keep improving on success.

For more Air Max styles check out City Gear’s selection of Air Max silhouettes

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