Carolyn Davidson ‘swooshes’ herself into art history


Carolyn Davidson created Nike’s iconic ‘swoosh’ logo in 1971 for Nike.

Emily Ferbet, Staff Writer

        Carolyn Davidson, who created the Nike ‘swoosh’ logo in 1971, did not think that the logo she designed would be as popular as it is today.

Davidson was approached by philanthropist Phil Knight one day in halls at Portland State University. Knowing her work, he asked her to be a part-time artist for his company, Blue Ribbon Sports.  He needed someone to create charts and graphs, so he offered Davidson $2 an hour to work part-time. It was through this offer that Knight and Davidson became friends and the classic Nike ‘swoosh’ was born.

Davidson’s success landed her many other side jobs revolving around the same type of business visuals.  One day in early 1971, however, Davidson was once again approached by Knight and asked to create a logo for a shoe that he had designed.

According to, Knight told Davidson that the logo needed to “convey motion and couldn’t look like the other shoe brands, Adidas, Puma or Onitsuka’s Tiger (the company Knight had recently parted ways with).”

A couple weeks after working on different designs, Davidson gave Knight six logo choices.

Bob Woodell, who would go on to serve as Nike’s president from 1983-1984, was one of the people to look at Davidson’s logos along with Knight.

“It was clear real quick which one was acceptable and which was not acceptable,”  Woodell said. Davidson ended up submitting the favored design for $35.

        In 1983, Woodell, during his first year as Nike’s president, suggested the company do something more for Davidson and her contributions.  So, Woodell called Davidson and asked her to lunch, a surprise that Davidson accepted.

It was at this lunch that Woodell handed Davidson a small box that contained a gold ring shaped as her signature ‘swoosh,’ with a small diamond near the curve.  Additionally, Woodell handed Davidson an envelope containing a Nike stock certificate.

Ms. Katie Schaefer, art teacher at St. Joseph’s Academy in St. Louis, has studied influential female artists.

“It’s important to recognize individuals’ hard work and contributions to something as important as Nike,” Schaefer said.