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Running on Air: A History of Nike Air Max

From remarkable beginnings to an iconic present.


Over 40 years ago, Nike revolutionized the footwear industry with it’s new groundbreaking cushioning technology known as Air Max. It all started with NASA aeronautical engineer Frank Rudy, who first captured high-density gasses in a urethane air bag, and brought the idea to Nike as a footwear cushioning concept.

Today, Air Max is one of Nike’s most profitable product franchises. Air Max sneakers have their own holiday each year in March called Air Max Day, when the latest Air Max models are debuted. The breadth of the Air Max series, including innovations, collaborations and cultural moments, has given rise to legions of dedicated collectors around the world, and Air Max means something different everywhere you go.

In the late ‘90s, Italian ravers and graffiti artists became so enthralled with the original Air Max 97, that they gave the shoe its own nickname, “Le Silver.” In France, Air Max Plus garnered their own colloquialism: “La Requin,” or “The Shark,” due to the shoe’s sleek profile. Americans may easily recall The Game name-dropping Air Max 95s on “Hate It Or Love It,” or Redman spitting “Get you steppin’ in your Air Max,” on “I’ll Bee Dat.” Likewise, fans of English grime grew up watching their favorite emcees like Skepta and Dizzee Rascal laced up in Air Max sneakers.

Below, we’ve gone back through the years to survey the storied history of Air Max, including all the seminal models and what you need to know about them.