Nike's swoosh logo turns 40

The young woman who designed the iconic image received a $35 check for her work. Nike made up for that later.

By Kim Peterson Jun 24, 2011 2:31PM
Forty years ago, a young graphic designer showed Nike (NKE) executives a new shoe logo she had designed. They weren't all that thrilled.

"I don't love it," chairman Phil Knight said at the time, according to The Oregonian, "but maybe it will grow on me."

And it did. The curvy, uplifting swoosh logo became Nike's signature mark. The image is now so powerful that it's instantly recognized around the world as the symbol of the athletic gear company.

That graphic designer, Carolyn Davidson, received just $35 for her work. Nike made up for it a decade or so later, however, giving her a diamond Swoosh ring and 500 shares of stock. She held on to those shares, and now they're worth a cool $650,000.

Davidson met Knight at Portland State University in the late 1960s, the Oregonian reported. He was an accounting professor and overheard her saying she couldn't afford to take an oil painting class. So he hired her to make charts and graphs for him to use in his side job running a company called Blue Ribbon Sports.

She continued to freelance for Knight's company, creating various graphics and other designs, until Knight asked for a logo for his new line of cleated shoes. It took her a few weeks to develop some finalists for Knight's team. They picked the logo and renamed the company Nike a few weeks later.

And a legend was born. Last year, Nike notched $19 billion in sales. Check out the following video, which shows how Nike is expanding in Brazil and other countries:


25Comments
Jun 24, 2011 4:04PM
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Well, ya know, Sicky.  She didn't run the company, nor did she invent the product.  She didn't do all that much, really, but hit on a good idea.  Now, if you think every stroke of inspiration is worth a fortune, let's you and me sit down.  And bring your checkbook, 'cause I have tons of great ideas.

Jun 24, 2011 5:53PM
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As an artist,I can say her retro comp was excellent. We all should hope to get paid that well for designing a logo.

Jun 25, 2011 6:04AM
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To state that Ms Davidson "only" created a logo is an understatement. She created an iconic symbol that is globally recognized. The fact is she was paid for the job. The amount is irrelevant because everyone will try to gauge it against a wage that would be paid today. Ms Davidson performed her job and was paid for that job. What most people don't understand is that once she created that logo "it" no longer belonged to her it was the company's. They call it proprietary. Now the fact that Mr. Knight provided Ms Davidson stock at a later date in an attempt to compensate her further for what he felt she may have been due could be called paltry. Especially in comparison to the visibility of that icon as the unspoken identity of the NIKE "brand". I haven't heard Ms Davidson complain, and until then I would consider all our opinions moot.
Jun 25, 2011 8:33AM
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Why is it that everytime Nike gets mentioned we have the child labor freaks hitting the comment boards?  If companies like Nike can get their products produced at a decent wage in another country, it makes sense to me to produce them abroad.  If countries are allowing companies to use forced child labor then take it up with them, or don't buy the product.  Fact is...if these products were produced in a US "union" shop, no one except the athletes would be able to afford them, and Nike would have disappeared decades ago!

Jun 25, 2011 1:51AM
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If you dont want stuff made by child workers dont buy it and stop whining
Jun 25, 2011 9:31AM
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For those of you misguided, uneducated, or naive individuals that criticize a company for using "child labor" and "sweat shops" to produce their products for cheaper, please do more research into the subject before regurgitating "facts" that know one cares about.  The history of every modern nation stems from industrialization, mainly textiles.  Economies and nations grow out of cheap labor.  It is the story of the U.S., Britain, France, etc.  This has now become the story of many Asian countries that were once considered 3rd world.  China is currently kicking our economic butts and a lot of that is because we outsourced products for cheap labor.  Asia currently has some of the tallest buildings in the world, such as the Taipei 101 in Taiwan, and Petronas Towers in Malaysia, both of which have been used for cheap labor by big U.S. companies and are experiencing a lot of economic growth.

And just in case you don't care about economics think about this.  These factories, although far from pleasant to work in, DO NOT incorporate "forced labor" as many people think of it.  They are NOT slaves and can quit whenever they want to.  By U.S. standards food, supplies, and labor is very cheap in these nations.  10 dollars could literally feed your family for a week.  However, most jobs in these neighborhoods and the whole country do not pay close to what these "sweatshops" will pay you.  So even if they're paid $4 a day, you're still getting paid more than the average citizen.

In addition, for those who are angered by the whole idea of these companies incorporating child labor, think of this.  Like I said before, for many people in these countries it is very difficult to find a job.  And even if you do find a job, the pay is usually not enough to sustain an "acceptable" living (acceptable meaning literally 4 walls, a sketchy roof, dirt floor, and food).  So not only do both parents work, but their children look for jobs as well.  Now one can argue that this is "forced", but this "force" is only created by the NEED to live.  So one can be inclined to say that these kids do not have to look for a job, but they do because if they don't, they starve.

Another fact is that poorer nations are more susceptible to human trafficking, and as much as we would like to try to close these curtains, it happens all the time.  There is an instance where Nike was forced to close one of its factories (sweatshops), because of "human activists" claims that they're using cheap child labor.  This is true, and the factory did shutdown.  So what happened to the kids?  They went and looked for another job.  Because of this, many of them resorted to prostitution and fell victim to human trafficking because they couldn't find another job to sustain their basic human needs, i.e. food and shelter.  The argument before can be applied to this situation in that now these kids are "forced" into prostitution.

So here is a question for all you self-righteous human activists: would you rather be "forced" to make shoes or "forced" to sell your body?

Have a nice day...
Jun 24, 2011 11:30PM
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You IDIOTS who talks about how much the Executives make and the Woman who designed the logo only has a Diamond ring and $650k over thirty years are complete morons! Should she have been getting a portion of Nike's profits ever since they used her design? That is ridiculous! She got paid to do a job 40years ago (and paid well for the time!) Because they were successful they paid her a whole lot of $ 10 years later. If Nike had turned out to be a complete failure should they have come back to this woman and said "look, remember that logo you designed for us?" " "We weren't profitable and we are bankrupt so now you owe us millions" RIDICULOUS!!!!
Jun 25, 2011 10:08AM
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capitalism makes the world go round
Jun 25, 2011 1:56AM
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Hey ! She only made a logo , geez people , work for 2 weeks and get 650K and a diamond ring to boot in return . Such a deal !
Jun 25, 2011 12:11PM
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No bitching here about Nike and slave labor. If you don't like it buy American. Previous post stated " Fact is...if these products were produced in a US "union" shop, no one except the athletes would be able to afford them".

Not so my friend. The company is New Balance where you can find made in the USA at a decent price. 70% or more of domestic materials and labor are classified "Made in USA". Less than 70% is classified as "Assembled in USA". Don't complain. switch.
Jun 25, 2011 11:58AM
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What people fail to realize when they demonize Nike and other companies for using "child labor" or "cheap labor" is that while the wage is low for the United States, it's often 3-4 times the average working wage in these other countries. So people in these countries in fact clammer for the "cheap" Nike jobs because they feel they are significantly improving their life.
Jun 24, 2011 10:15PM
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People keep leaving out the ring in the shape of the swoosh they gave her too.
Jun 25, 2011 11:25AM
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To stillatit: And how does your explanation justify these "child labor" and "sweat shops" that these other nations use in order to transition from a third world nation to a more industrialized one? Does it mean it's ok to do it??
Jun 25, 2011 11:53AM
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And if you have tall buildings you are to be feared! There are many countries growing their economies based on more than low wages, although I agree it is a factor. And China is not "kicking our butts" economically, we will continue to have the largest economy per capita for years to come.
Jun 25, 2011 12:20PM
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There's a major difference between "the history of textiles and growing economies" and the flagrant misuse of cheap/child labor, poor working conditions and international tax loopholes to build a world-wide corporation. Nike has repeatedly been an example of a large corporation doing EVERYTHING POSSIBLE to take advantage of every opportunity to simply MAKE MONEY while EXPLOITING the people who make their products, the countries that allow their factories to be built and the people who purchase their products. I still find it HILARIOUS that people will spend several hundred dollars to walk around with shoes on their feet that cost less than $10 from materials to sales floor. There was a news report by 60 Minutes a couple of years ago that went over all of this, and it's simply amazing how people will continually ignore this kind of corporate behavior in the modern day in the name of "style", or whatever it is they use to justify themselves for being shallow...
Aug 12, 2011 12:17PM
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it is admirable, that hindsight was indeed given to her compensation and that she was given an additional payment. Albeit a decade later.

Most corporations would NOT do this. ie: automotive industry owes so much to the engineers who under salary have come up with some amazing innovations
Jun 25, 2011 12:51PM
Jun 25, 2011 12:50PM
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lol... for the guy that talks about new balance..... NOBODY WANTS TO WEAR NEW BALANCE, DUDE!!! i'm willing to bet thousands you are wearing crocs on your feet and a big dog shirt and your back.
Jun 25, 2011 12:43PM
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quit crying about slave labor, people. it is a simple logo that probably took three seconds to create, nike wasn't nearly as big/successful 40 years ago as it is today, 35 bucks was more than 35 bucks of 2011, and they made up for it later. i have never wanted or owned a pair of nikes in my life, but look at the facts.
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