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In 1971 company founder Phil Knight was supplementing his modest income from his fledgling Blue Ribbon Sports, Inc., by teaching an accounting class at Portland State University. There he met Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student, who was working on a drawing assignment in the hallway. Knight offered to pay her a couple of bucks an hour if she would do some design work for his small company.
"Representatives from Japan were coming for a presentation and Phil wanted some charts and graphs to show them," recalls Davidson. "I did some design work for him, and then one day he asked me if I wanted to work on a shoe stripe. He said he needed more inventory control."
According to Davidson, Knight wanted a design that suggested movement. She let flow the creative juices and came back to him with numerous designs. None captivated his imagination.
However, Knight was staring down a deadline. Shoe boxes in Mexico were waiting to be printed. He needed a logo. He needed a decision. So he grabbed her rendering of the Swoosh, telling Davidson, "I don't love it, but it will grow on me."
Being fresh out of school with a design degree, and hungry for work, Davidson submitted her bill for $35 for the Swoosh design. She continued to design for the newly renamed company Nike, including ads, brochures, posters and catalogues. The company's growth was exponential, and there came a point when her one-person design shop was too small to handle Nike's advertising needs. Nike and Davidson agreed it was time for a full-service ad agency.
But the Swoosh creator didn't just ride off into the sunset. Davidson got a telephone call one day in September 1983, inviting her to have lunch and touch base again with a few of the people she used to work with at Nike, including Knight. When she arrived, much to her surprise, she was greeted with a catered lunch and was presented with a gold Swoosh ring embedded with a diamond. She also received a certificate from Knight and an envelope containing Nike stock.
How much stock remains a secret between Knight and her. "The stock has split three times since I received it, so I can definitely say that I have been well compensated for my design," she says. "You must remember too, that this was something rather special for Phil to do, because I originally billed him and he paid that invoice."
Davidson still lives in Portland, Oregon. She's married, the mother of two grown sons and a proud grandmother. She retired from graphic design after 29 years and is now pursuing varied interests and doing the volunteer work that she couldn't do while running her one-woman business and raising her family. One day a week you will find her at one of her favorite places to volunteer, the Ronald McDonald House at Emanuel Hospital.
And we're fairly certain that the Swoosh grew on Phil.