Over the course of America’s 239 years as a nation, 44
From ruthless scientists, to Nazi shoemakers and vicious Dinosaur hunters, we take a look at some of the most surprising and fierce rivalries that history has to offer.
1. Adidas Vs Puma: The Nazi Brothers
Believe it or not, the founder of Adidas and the founder of Puma were actually brothers. Adolf Dassler (Adi Das) and Rudolf Dassler (I think Rudi’s shoes has a ring to it, but obviously he didn’t) used to make footwear together in their mother’s laundry room in rural Germany. They got their big break when Jesse Owens won four gold medals in their shoes in 1936, but that’s as close to a fairy-tale as we’re getting as the brothers turned grim and joined the Nazi party during World War II.
Rudolf was captured by American troops after being a suspected member of the SS and he blamed his brother for supplying the information. He probably cursed the skies in German, we’ll never know. When the war was finally over, Rudolf packed up his half of the company and built a new factory across a passive-aggressively positioned river. The two brothers and the two brands continued to have a rivalry for decades and the townspeople took sides, generating different football teams, schools and even butchers.
2. In Love and War: Frida Kahlo Vs Diego Riviera
Now for the lovers and rivals that sparked a revolution. When Kahlo was 21, the aspiring artist approached Mexico’s leading painter and renowned get-it-about-er Rivera for a critique of her work. Her talent impressed him and the two began a fiery love affair that led to their marriage a year later.
If it ended there, it would be a beautiful story, but it didn’t. Both Rivera and Kahlo had a string of extramarital affairs that made each other jealous wrecks (At one stage they actually dated the same woman). At the same time though their deep love inspired each of their works to new levels, with the pair fast becoming two of the world’s leading artists. The marriage broke down when Rivera slept with Kahlo’s sister (??!), but they reunited when communist leader Leon Trotsky stayed at their house (because that’s the sort of life they led).
The marriage ended fully when Kahlo and Trotsky began a love affair, but shortly after, the Ukrainian was assassinated and the police interrogated Kahlo for the murder. In stepped Rivera, like the big womanising-art-making-knight in shining armor that he was, to support her through the ordeal. The pair eventually remarried and stayed together until her death, a day that he remarked was the most tragic of his life. Probably wasn’t thinking of that when he was banging her sister, though.
3. The Dinosaur Hunters: Gideon Mantell Vs Sir Richard Owen
Gideon Mantell was the dreamer son of a shoemaker, so when he found a fossil he believed belonged to a giant lizard, he was pretty happy with himself. The pity was everyone else laughed at him, probably saying things like ‘Lizards aren’t big, they’re really small’ and ‘Go make shoes you loser’. After years trying to prove it, in swept the well-connected Richard Owen (hopefully to a chorus of boos) to coin the term dinosaur and undermine all of Mantell’s work.
For years the two bitter dinosaur hunters provided excellent insights that advanced scientific thinking as they fought to better one-another. Unbelievably, Owen would often steal Mantell’s work by renaming the dinosaurs and claiming it was he who found them. Mantell eventually died a poor and broken man in a house full of dusty fossils, but even that didn’t stop Owen’s quest for dominance as (and this is where it gets ridiculous)… he TOOK MANTELL’S ACTUAL SPINE OUT and had it pickled in a jar. He then proceeded to destroy Mantell’s legacy, seizing his fossil collection and disbanding it across the world.
Mantell was sort of posthumously vindicated years later when people realised a) what an awful human Owen was and b) Mantell was right about pretty much everything they disagreed on. Well that’s nice isn’t it? He may have died a spineless, success-less loser with no wife (because obviously she left him for being too wrapped up in the rivalry), but he did gain some credit years after he could ever bask in it. Swings and roundabouts.
4. Chess Against the Machine: Kasparov Vs Deep Blue
In what seems like some kind of precursor to realizing the Terminator movies, this rivalry pit the youngest ever chess master, Garry Kasparov, against IMB’s super-computer, Deep Blue. Now this rivalry wasn’t just about a cheeky chess champion and a smart-ass computer, this was Humankind Vs Robotkind (sort of). The computer’s mission, and it chose to accept it, was to destroy Kasparov on the chessboard, but would a machine finally be able to outsmart humankind?
Round One took place in NY in 1989. Kasparov was confident and rightly so, easily defeating the (not very) super-computer in straight games. The champion even got involved in some pretty average trash talking. I imagine he was walking out of the building at the time, before half-turning to a disgruntled robot and putting on his best Batman voice, ‘Tell your programmers they left out one crucial ingredient (insert close up of face), knowing when to give up’. Now I’m not sure if the robot slammed his fist on the table, but IBM were pretty miffed and vowed to one day come back stronger.
Round Two was seven years later in (flip flip) Philadelphia. This time it was ON. Deep Blue came back with an ability to calculate moves 1,000 times faster than any human and it showed as he took the first match comfortably. No computer has ever beaten a grandmaster in a single game and Kasparov had to do something before Deep Blue got a bit too big for his reboots. The human came back to eventually win 4-2, but for a while there it was close.
Round Three saw the third and final instalment of Human Vs Robot in 1997. Kasparov took an early lead but, in what must have been a dramatic twist set to a Hans Zimmer piece, the robot changed its playing style and went on to win 3½–2½. In true human-fashion, Kasparov claimed that IBM cheated, but the result stood and now I’m going to go prepare for the impending apocalypse.
5. The Currant War: Thomas Edison Vs Nikola Tesla
This electric rivalry (Please like me) began when a 28-year-old Tesla first arrived in the US clutching a recommendation to hand to his idol, Thomas Edison. The letter began, ‘I know two great men and you are one of them; the other is this young man’.
Tesla began working for Edison and he was quickly solving some of the company’s most taxing problems. Edison decided to give him the seemingly impossible task of redesigning the company’s direct current generators and offered to pay him $50,000 for his troubles. When, after months of work, Tesla actually managed it (because he was a bit of a genius), a gobsmacked Edison refused to pay him, instead insulting Tesla by claiming it was a joke that his Serbian humour clearly didn’t understand. Edison eventually offered him a meagre pay rise, but Tesla (presumably aware that one day he was to be played by David Bowie in rival-fueled The Prestige) decided to be a rebel rebel and quit.
When Tesla couldn’t find another job, though, a smug Edison agreed to rehire him (wait for it) as a ditch digger. Clearly feeling under pressure, he soon quit again and teamed up with one of Edison’s competitors to develop AC current. Knowing that the challenging AC current could threaten his life work, Edison didn’t want cha-cha-changes and launched a brutal campaign to bring it down. This incredibly led to the public electrocution of an elephant and the invention of the electric chair. Tesla eventually won the current war but Edison remained a stubborn but influential old swine and Tesla spent the rest of his life struggling to find funding for his inventions. They were both considered for the Nobel peace prize for strides in physics, but their bitter rivalry stopped either man ever being awarded it.
And I’m pretty sure this is where I should cobble together a moral lesson, so here goes: don’t join the Nazi party, bang your wife’s sister, like fossils, play chess against a computer or electrocute an elephant, because, if you do, there’s about a 50/50 chance you won’t get away with it.