Nike’s Iconic Swoosh: Was the Designer Paid Only $35 for the Logo That Became Worth Millions?

One of the things that sets Nike apart is its logo — a “swoosh.”

But it turns out the logo was created by a graphic design student in 1971, and Nike paid her just $35 … initially.

But there’s more to the story behind the iconic swoosh. Nike paid more the $35.

Photo by Aman Jakhar:

“That wasn’t all Nike gave me,” Carolyn Davidson told sports journalist Darren Rovell in 2016. “First of all, they gave me my start. I learned the design world. I got referrals and I became known as the ‘Logo Lady,’” Davidson said, adding that in 1983, then-Nike president Bob Woodell and co-founder Phil Knight also gave her “a gold ring in the shape of a swoosh with a diamond in it and some shares of stock.”

Davidson didn’t say how many shares she was given. But if she hung onto them, she could be hanging on to a fortune.

A 2010 article by Counterkicks also quotes Knight from a transcript of the Sept. 10 shareholders’ meeting, saying that Davidson was given 500 shares in 1983 after Nike went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 1980.

Davidson told Rovell in 2016, “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,” according to Business Insider.

The Nike corporate website says the company’s stock has split 2:1 six times between 1990 and 2015, meaning that 500 shares would have become 32,000 shares.

Nike stock closed at 25 cents per share on Sept. 15, 1983, making the value of 500 shares on that day approximately $125. As of May 24, Nike was trading at $91.75 per share. So, 500 shares of Nike would be worth approximately $45,875.

If she has 32,000 share it would be $2,936,000.

Nike’s Start

In 1971, Phil Knight, now with an estimated net worth of $19 billion, was teaching accounting at Portland State University. The assistant professor had a side business called Blue Ribbon Sports, which aimed to take on Adidas and Puma by distributing Japanese sneakers. When that deal fell apart, Knight decided to start making his own shoes.

Knight found his designer on campus: Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student at Portland State. Knight overheard Davidson talk about how she couldn’t afford to take a painting class, so he approached her with a pitch, asking if she’d like to do some freelance design work for the young company. The agreed-upon rate was $35.

The Birth of the Swoosh

Davidson’ went to work.’s goal was to make something static appear fluid. “I remember being in my studio working on it,” she explained in one interview. “I drew a picture of a shoe and then I drew (logos) on tissue. I’d lay it over. And then I’d—” Davidson made a motion as if crumpling paper. “Because it has to look good on a shoe.”

She presented a handful of designs to Knight and his business partners. They didn’t love any of them, but one — a curvy check mark — seemed better than the others. “Well, I don’t love it,” Knight said, “but maybe it will grow on me.” By June 18, 1971, the logo was registered with the U.S. Patent Office.

Davidson graduated from Portland State in 1971 and worked with Nike until 1975, when she decided to go freelance.

Davidson is satisfied with the swoosh’s ubiquity. “I like it,” she says. “I really do. I never get tired of looking at it.”

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