The history of Air Max: 32 years of innovative sneaker design

The history of Air Max: 32 years of innovative sneaker design

32 years of constant innovation has seen a plethora of new sneaker models from the Air Max line that’s earned it cult-like fans worldwide.

History of Air Max evolution

The evolution of the Air Max line never seems to stop, with myriad new models appearing every year.

In light of Air Max Day 2019, we’re looking back on the history of the iconic sneaker.

The beauty of the Air Max spans generation. Hundreds of the latest Air Max models are available on today. But to commemorate the beginning of it all, check out 32 interesting facts about the history of Air Max below.

1. Meet the founder of Nike Air – Marion Franklin Rudy

History of Air Max Frank Rudy

The late Frank Rudy pitched his Air cushioning technology back in 1977.

Better known as Frank Rudy, the aerospace engineer took a role at Nike to provide creative solutions for the brand. His idea to incorporate air in the soles of sneakers, which led to the development of Nike’s Air technology, will live on for as long as the Air Max line continues evolving.

2. Nike’s Air unit, introduced over 40 years ago, wasn’t always visible

History of Air Max Nike Tailwind

The Nike Tailwind was the first sneaker fitted with Air technology.

Before the Air Max, there was the Nike Tailwind, the first running shoe to use the Air technology developed by Frank Rudy. But despite the breakthrough, Nike’s brand new innovation was hidden from sight in this design.

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3. The Air Max 1 in 1987 was a game changer, displaying innovation you can actually see

History of Air Max Air Max 1

Nike debuted the Air Max 1 in 1987, a sneaker with innovation you can actually see.

Designed by the legendary Tinker Hatfield, the Air Max 1 has since achieved icon status, kickstarting a line that has become synonymous with sneaker innovation. The most intriguing part of the sneaker is the small window on the midsole that puts Nike’s Air cushioning innovation on display.

4. Atmos holds the bragging rights for being the first brand to collaborate with the Air Max 1

First atmos x Air Max 1 collaboration History of Air max

The successful first Air Max 1 collab opened doors to future partnerships between Nike, Atmos, and the Air Max 1.

Sneaker history has a special place for the first Atmos x Air Max 1 collaboration in 2002. The “Safari” print remains iconic to this day, and some consider it the greatest Air Max 1 ever released.

5. Tinker Hatfield did not start out as a sneaker designer

Tinker Hatfield History of Air Max

Tinker Hatfield, sneaker designer extraordinaire, has quite the story about how he entered the industry.

Tinker Hatfield started off as an architect, joining Nike initially to design storefronts and office spaces. He knew that it was his entry point into the industry. A few years down the line, he tapped on his knowledge in architecture to develop the first and most iconic sneaker in the Air Max line, the Air Max 1. The rest, as they say, is history.

6. The birth of the Air Max certainly marked a revolution (and even involved The Beatles)

Nike obtained the rights to The Beatles’ song Revolution for the iconic Air Max commercial. However, the band objected to the use of their music in advertising, and Nike ultimately pulled the ads. Despite that, the Air Max ad paved the way for commercials to feature original music.

7. The Air Max 90 symbolized a new decade for the sneaker line

History of Air Max Air Max 90

The release of the Air Max 90, with its aggressive design lines, marked a defining moment.

The Air Max 90 had a standout aesthetic that captured the sneaker culture of its time. Its modern design and bold colors made it a cult favorite back in the day.

8. It took the minds of two sneaker design legends to create the Air Max 180

History of Air Max Air Max 180

When two of the best sneaker designers came together, the Air Max 180 was born.

The Air Max 180 was conceived from the efforts of both Tinker Hatfield and Bruce Kilgore, who designed the iconic Air Force 1. A true retro classic, its key feature is the Air unit that can be seen from the sides and bottom of the sneaker.

9. At one point of time, the Air Max 93 represented the pinnacle of Nike’s Air unit

History of Air Max Air Max 93

The Air Max 93 featured an Air unit that spanned across the heel.

Every Air Max iteration seeks to showcase Nike’s prized innovation in new ways. When the sportswear brand unveiled the Air Max 93, it was thought to be the best display of Air, coupled with a unique ankle collar. But as we already know, it only gets better.

10. A forefoot Air unit was first realized on the Air Max 95

History of Air Max Air Max 95

A new take on the Air Max 95’s Air cushioning truly changed the game for runners.

The Air Max 95 was the first to feature visible Nike Air cushioning in the forefoot. A distinctly bold and chunky silhouette, the Air Max 95 provided comfort and support unlike any other at the time.

11. The “Silver Bullet” nickname was first coined for an Air Max sneaker in 1997

History of Air Max Air Max 97

The “Silver Bullet” looks as cool as it sounds; it was first released in 1997.

Streamlined, edgy and a force to be reckoned with, the introduction of the Air Max 97 in a silver colorway earned it the moniker, “Silver Bullet”. An apt nickname for a design inspired by Japan’s bullet trains.

12. The Air Max 97 was groundbreaking in both design and technology

 History of Air Max Air Max 97

The design was rather outlandish for its time, but the sneaker still remains one of the most popular Air Max models.

Who can forget the full-length Air unit on these Air Max 97s? Not content to just come up with a drastically different midsole, the brand topped it off with an equally captivating design on the uppers as well.

13. The Air Max took a path less traveled in 2003

History of Air Max Air Max 2003

Nike opted for less color but more function on the Air Max 2003.

Breaking away from the traditional bold colors of past Air Max models, the Air Max 2003 gunned for the ‘functional sneaker’ look with a tonal colorway. It featured the Air Max 97’s full-length Air unit, while a new construction allowed for extra stability, with the wearer’s foot closer to the ground.

14. Nike made “walking on air” a possibility

History of Air Max Air Max 2006

The Air Max 2006 featured a colorway that paid homage to the original Air Max.

The Air Max 360 gave its wearers a “walking on air” experience thanks to its Max Air unit. Check out the cushioning on these and the University Red colorway – a nod to the original Air Max 1.

15. 2015 marked a year of reinvention

History of Air Max Air Max 2015

The Air Max 2015 featured more color, more air, and it was simply better than anything else ever released.

The Air Max 2015 arrived to knock down each and every Air Max model of the past – in the performance category, that is. The running shoe featured an upper that matched the incredibly dynamic Max Air cushioning. This is the first Air Max with uppers that complement the Nike Flywire technology. All in all, the Air Max 2015 delivers a smooth and bouncy ride.

16. The Air unit isn’t filled with oxygen

History of Air Max Nitrogen

In another lifetime, Nike might’ve named its innovation ‘nitrogen unit’.

Here’s a fun fact: just like the air that we breathe, the air found in Nike’s cushioning system is largely made up of nitrogen. Who thought it was oxygen in there?

17. Nike designed an Air Max for high-impact activities

History of Air Max Air Max Plus

The original colorways of the Air Max Plus took inspiration from the transitioning colors of the sky at dusk.

Air Max was at its peak in the 90s, and during that time Nike introduced the Air Max Plus. The sneaker became the first to utilize the Tuned Air system – an essential technology for shock absorption. This made the Air Max Plus the perfect sneaker for high-impact activities.

18. The air pressure in Air Max sneakers is equivalent to that of a car tyre

History of Air Max Air Pressure

You’re right to say that Air Max sneakers are a smooth ride.

Car tyres are, of course, filled with air. You know what else is? Air Max sneakers. In fact, the air pressure in the bubble of Air Max sneakers measures the same as the average car tyre at 25 PSI.

19. The Air unit is constructed out of a polymer called polyurethane

History of Air Max Polyurethane

Rest assured that Nike only uses high-quality materials.

The material is not only used for Air Max soles. The marine industry also relies heavily on it. Polyurethane is also an eco-friendly material, often helping to cut emissions through its insulating potential.

20. Blow molding changed everything for Nike’s Air unit innovation

History of Air Max Blow Molding

The technique discovered in 1991 gave hope for far greater creativity with the Air unit.

Before the Air Max 180 in 1991, Nike designers could not maximize the potential height of the Air unit. The advent of a new manufacturing technology called blow molding opened up the possibilities to develop the Nike Air in more ways than ever before.

21. Nike took seven years to develop the Air Vapormax

History of Air Max Air Vapormax

Debuting in 2016, the groundbreaking Air Vapormax represented the pinnacle of Air.

The Air Vapormax is an engineering masterpiece. All those years went into developing a product that’s just upper and sole, with nothing else in between. Looking back, the effort was well worth it.

22. The Vapormax is the lightest sneaker in the Air Max lineup

History of Air Max Air Vapormax

Lighter running shoes can boost speed, and the Vapormax definitely offers that.

When it comes to running, the lighter the shoe, the better. A men’s US9 weighs about 240g, while a women’s US8 weighs a mere 198g.

23. You can actually buy a version of the Vapormax that’s blinged out with Swarovski Crystals

History of Air Max Air Vapormax Swarovski Crystals

Bold and beautiful: Over one thousand Swarovski Crystals are embedded on the Vapormax.

Yes, you read that right. There really is a Vapormax decked in a bright lime green colorway with a constellation of Swarovski Crystals embedded all over the upper. It’s now available on for a cool S$720.

24. The first lifestyle Air Max sneaker was the Air Max 270

History of Air Max Air Max 270

The sneaker’s design is a combination of the Air Max 93 and 180.

Nike’s sneakers are always geared for optimal performance. The Air Max 270 became the first sneakers in the lineup marketed as a lifestyle offering. But functionality still remains at the forefront of the 270, featuring a breathable upper and a huge heel Air unit.

25. The 720 is the first full-length lifestyle Air Max shoe

History of Air Max Air Max 720

The future is here and it’s everything you see on the Air Max 720.

In 2019, Nike released another lifestyle sneaker from the Air Max lineup. The Air Max 720 is the first lifestyle sneaker featuring a full-length Air unit.

26. The 720 has the tallest Air unit

History of Air Max Air Max 720 tallest Air unit

Just when you thought the Air Max couldn’t get any taller, along came the Air Max 720.

Not only is the Air Max 720 the first full-length Air Max lifestyle sneaker, it also trumps the Air Max 270 as the sneaker with the tallest Air unit by 6mm. For that, it’s landed itself in the annals of Air Max history.

27. The first few colorways of the Air Max 720 were inspired by nature

History of Air Max Air Max 720 Design inspired by nature

The nature-inspired colorways play well with the fluidity of the biggest full-length Air Max sole.

Different movements of energy in nature are reflected in each colorway of the Nike Air Max 720. Examples include lava flows, the Northern Lights, the Milky Way, and sunsets and sunrises.

28. More than 75% of the Air Max 720 is made from manufacturing waste

History of Air Max Manufacturing waste

Large companies have a responsibility to reduce the impact of manufacturing on the environment. Nike are pioneers in the industry.

As the largest manufacturer of footwear, it’s only right that Nike pioneers a movement and innovation that reduces the harm to our environment. At least 50% of every Air sole produced consists of recycled materials. On the 720, more than 75% of each Air unit is made up of recycled manufacturing waste.

29. Air Max hybrids captured the best of the Air Max line

History of Air Max Hybrid models

Best of both worlds: Air Max 1 uppers fitted with Air Max 90 soles.

Sole-swapping was a definite trend in the customizing of sneakers. The fact that Nike took it upon itself to release iterations such as the Air Max 90/1 truly made it even more accessible and appealing.

30. Sean Wotherspoon’s Air Max was a collector’s dream

History of Air Max Sean Wotherspoon 1/97

Sean Wotherspoon’s Air Max 1/97 is the kind of sneaker that will only come once in a lifetime.

Not too long ago, a release was canceled due to the chaotic atmosphere in anticipation of Sean Wotherspoon’s Air Max 1/97. We don’t blame the sneakerheads. The winning Nike Vote Forward 2017 design took the Air Max to the next level with the mini Swoosh on the toe box, corduroy uppers and layers of unique colors. It’s a must-have that will be awed by generations of sneakerheads to come.

31. The Air Max is a multi-billion-dollar innovation 

History of Air Max Billion-dollar innovation

The Air Max line has spawned countless sneakers over three decades, with a fanbase that’ll stop at nothing to cop the best releases.

With over 500 utility asset patents and approximately 700,000 combined-square-feet of dedicated U.S. manufacturing, the Air Max is Nike’s money maker that has surpassed the billion dollar mark.

32. The Air Max turns 32 years old on March 26, 2019

History of Air Max Air Max Day

Mark your calendars every year. The best is yet to come.

Every year Nike celebrates Air Max Day to commemorate the debut the Air Max 1 on March 26, 1987. In 2019, the iconic line celebrates its 32nd anniversary. Why do we celebrate Air Max Day, you ask? Knowing Nike, the Air-volution only gets better every year, with new, mind-blowing releases.

If you didn’t know much about the Air Max before this, now you do. And perhaps it’s time to add an Air Max to your sneaker rotation if you don’t own any yet. Check out the latest Air Max releases on

Which of these facts about the history of Air Max are your favorites? Let us know in the comments below.

Read more: Air Max Day 2019: Singapore’s culture makers air their views on the Air Max 

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