How a college student created one of sport's most iconic images

June 17, 2016, 4:57 PM

— -- Editor's note: On June 18, 1971, the Nike Swoosh was used commercially for the first time. The date is noted in a trademark filing for the logo that the company, then Blue Ribbon Sports, filed in January 1972.  In honor of the 45th anniversary of one of the most iconic logos in sports and business, Darren Rovell sat down with the woman who designed it, Carolyn Davidson. Here is the story of the swoosh, in her words.

I was a design student at Portland State and a friend and I were in a drawing class together. We were outside in the hall that day drawing stairwells when she asked me if I was going to take an oil painting class.

I told her I can't because my husband had just come back from the Coast Guard and we were both in school. With everything you had to buy -- the brushes, the canvas -- I just couldn't afford it.

About 15 minutes later, a tall man in blue suit walks by us and says he overheard my conversation and he had some projects for me if I needed money. It was of course Phil Knight, who was teaching accounting at the school to make some extra money himself.

So over the next couple weeks, I worked on charts and graphs for him for a presentation for executives who were coming over from Asia. Later, I worked on posters, ads and flyers.

One day, Phil comes up to me and says, "I'd like for you to work on a shoe stripe." The logo was to have something to do with showing movement.

So I mocked up designs on tissue paper and held them up to shoes. I gave him five choices for a meeting they had. I wasn't overly pleased with what I did, but I liked the swoosh the best.

I remember him coming out and saying they had picked the Swoosh, that he didn't love it, but maybe it would grow on him.

I had no idea how much to charge him for my work. I had taken design classes, but I didn't know anything about the business. So I charged $35.

That wasn't all Nike gave me. First of all, they gave me my start. I learned the design world. I got referrals and I became known as the "Logo Lady."

In 1983, Bob Woodell, who was Nike president at the time, called me and said that he and Phil would like to take me out to lunch. When I showed up, all these employees were there. They had a spread of food and chocolate swooshes for dessert. They gave me a gold ring in the shape of a swoosh with a diamond in it and some shares of stock.

I haven't cashed in a single share of the original stock, but the shares have split a bunch of times and I have sold some of that stock.

When I see my design in everyday life today, it's a little surreal and strange. While I'm proud of what I did, in some way I see it as just another design. It was Phil and the employees at Nike that turned the business into what it was. If they didn't have the savvy, it would have been just another drawing.