History Of The Air Force 1

A grey Air Force 1 Low with a black Swoosh on the side and a black sole unit propped against another on a rooftop.
Credit: Sahej Brar

A grey Air Force 1 Low with a black Swoosh on the side and a black sole unit propped against another on a rooftop.
Credit: Sahej Brar

The Air Force 1 history is undeniably one of the most captivating and illustrious stories within the realm of modern sneakers.

In 1982, this iconic footwear made its debut with the intention of being one of the best basketball shoes on the market, with Nike using six of its most popular NBA stars to promote the shoes.

However, the journey of the Air Force 1 from the courts to sneaker superstardom was far from a straightforward trajectory. In fact, at one stage, it came perilously close to extinction, were it not for the early support and belief in Nike's design by a select few stores in Baltimore.

So, how did this shoe, once on the brink of obscurity, transform into one of the most coveted and best sneakers of today? We've compiled a series of defining moments in its history to provide you with a deeper understanding of its journey. Join us as we delve into this compelling tale.

Air Force 1 history

The Air Force 1 has been around for 40 years now and is widely regarded as one of the best Nike shoes ever made. But where did it all begin for the iconic model? Let's take a closer look at its origins...


As touched on, the Air Force 1 began life in 1982 as a basketball shoe, most notably as the first sneaker to bring the soft, springy Nike Air cushioning to the game.

Nike doubled down on this and used six of its top NBA stars under contract, these being Michael Cooper, Bobby Jones, Moses Malone, Calvin Natt, Mychal Thompsen, and Jammal Wilkes, to promote the shoes as part of the "Original Six" campaign.

Nike 1983 Air Force 1 campaign with six NBA players dressed in white with the original Air Force 1s on feet.
expand image
Credit: Nike

As per their name and Bruce Kilgore's futuristic design, the concept of the promotion was flight, with each player donning bright white aerospace overalls to match the high-top sneakers on their feet.

Despite being dressed in white, these weren't the popular "Triple White" Air Force 1 '07s available today, arguably some of the best white sneakers ever made. No, the shoes actually featured grey Swooshes and outsoles to match the ankle strap around the high-top collar.

Nike product image of an original 1982 white and grey Air Force 1 high-top.
expand image
Credit: Nike

This is possibly where the Air Force 1 faced its first hurdle. Initially, with only one collar height and limited colour options, there wasn't an Air Force 1 design that catered to everyone's tastes, unlike the present day. As a result, the Air Force 1 struggled to gain widespread popularity.

What this initial design did provide though was a template for future releases, although Nike hasn't forgotten about where it all started as it dropped Vintage "Sail" remakes of the originals in 2022.


Yes, one of the most popular sneakers ever made was actually dropped by Nike in the early years, with the original #4190 design eventually discontinued by '83.

However, consumers demanded it back, with owners of the Air Force 1 taking to customising their own shoes in order to compensate for a lack of new designs.

Retailers also had an interest. According to Nike, three stores in Baltimore had a particular desire to see the Air Force 1 return, and even lobbied hard for it. Nike agreed, but only if the retailers would take 1,200 pairs of the two initial colourways.

Nike Air Force 1 Highs in red, brown, white, black, and blue on a table next to their original drawings.
expand image
Credit: Nike

These retailers accepted and took on the 1,200 pairs of the "Royal Blue" and "Chocolate Brown" designs and, in doing so, inadvertently retro'd a sneaker for the first time, something that is massively popular in today's sneaker culture.

This collection of shoes became known as the "Colour of the Month" series, aka the sneakers which Nike credits as the saviour of the Air Force 1. Recently, Nike has been paying homage to the "Colour of the Month" heritage by reissuing the original colourways, evidenced by the "Forest Green" Lows.


Following its return, the '80s and '90s saw the shoes only sold at select retailers rather than through Nike's catalogue, thus giving them an element of exclusivity.

Nike also made some adjustments to the design in the '90s to give the shoes a more uniform, sleek aesthetic. For example, Nike ditched the mesh side panels, opting instead for an all-leather upper that remains popular to this day.

Nike Air Force 1 in white and grey next to the "Royal Blue" colourway.
expand image
Credit: Nike

Where the Air Force 1 really made its mark on sneaker history though was when Nike introduced the white-on-white design in the '90s. This simple colour scheme was easy to wear and match to any outfit, thus making it popular along the East Coast.

This design became so popular in fact that music artist Jay-Z started to wear the shoes on stage which, according to Bobbito Garcia, "really, really pushed the shoe", and the rapper even referenced the sneakers in “Can I Live II”.

Additionally, it is well-known that Dr. Dre wears a brand new pair of Air Force 1s every day, and Nike solidified its position in the hip-hop culture with a Roc-a-Fella Records partnership in the 2000s. Ultimately, the Air Force 1 made its mark in popular culture in a way few sneakers have over the years.

Nike Air Force 1 collaboration with Roc-a-fella Records dressed in white with the Roc-a-fella logo on the heel.
expand image
Credit: Nike

Nowadays, we'd say the Air Force 1 house cemented itself on the Mt. Rushmore of sneakers, with perhaps the Jordan 1's history the only legacy that compares.

Even to this day, the shoe retains its immense popularity and has been the focal point of several remarkable sneaker collaborations with big names such as Supreme, Off-White, and more recently, ALYX putting their names to the shoes.

So, from basketball to the streets of Baltimore, and then on to sneaker stardom, the Air Force 1 really has done it all. What's next for the model though? We certainly can't wait to find out.

This Article's Topics

Explore new topics and discover content that's right for you!