The Greatest Brands in American History

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2.  Ford Motor Company

Long before GM, Toyota, or VW were founded, the Ford Motor Company was the dominant car brand in the U.S. It remains one of them today. Ford was established in 1903 by Henry Ford. One of Ford’s earliest brands, the Model-T, became so popular that Henry Ford created two revolutionary concepts to address demand. The first was the modern assembly line, which was the basis of manufacturing for decades and which is, to some extent, still used today. The other, established in 1914, was the $5 workday, and turned the Ford name into one of the most famous brands of the first quarter of the 20th Century. According to the company’s description of that period, “After Ford’s announcement, thousands of prospective workers showed up at the Ford Motor Company employment office. People surged toward Detroit from the American South and the nations of Europe. As expected, employee turnover diminished. And, by creating an eight-hour day, Ford could run three shifts instead of two, increasing productivity.” Ford was also critical to the start of aviation in the U.S. and was a huge manufacturer of weapons and war materials in WWII.

3.  Sears

Founded in the mid 1880s, the company was originally known for its catalog, not as a brick-and-mortar business; it did not open its first store until 1925. The catalog was originally a way to sell watches. As the catalog expanded, it became an important source of goods for Americans living in rural areas, which were then a substantial part of the population. The catalog grew to 532 pages by 1895 and included, according the company’s history, shoes, women’s garments and millinery, wagons, fishing tackle, stoves, furniture, china, musical instruments, saddles, firearms, buggies, bicycles, baby carriages, glassware, and jewelry. Revenue for the company was over $400,000 in 1893 and $750,000 in 1895. The retail operation of the firm grew “to 192 stores in 1928, to 319 stores in 1929 and to 400 stores in 1933. During one 12-month period in the late 20’s, stores opened on the average of one every other business day. When two huge stores opened in one city on the same day, more than 120,000 people visited them during the first 12 hours they were open.”

4.  Kodak

George Eastman created the first personal camera and began selling it in 1888 with the slogan, “you press the button, we do the rest.” The new product made photography available to tens of millions of American in the following decades. According to several histories of Kodak, its goal was to make photography “as convenient as the pencil.” By 1891 Kodak created the first camera that did not have to be loaded in a darkroom, further increasing the appeal of the personal camera. In 1900 Kodak began to market the “Brownie,” which sold for $1 with film that cost $.15 a roll. Kodak also dominated the businesses of technology for movies and industrial photography. Along with Polaroid, which was founded in 1937 and launched a line of portable cameras in 1948, Kodak brought the ability to record history on film to anyone who could spend a few dollars on a camera.

5.  Coca-Cola

The drink was first introduced by John Stith Pemberton in Atlanta in 1886. The drink was sold for a nickel a glass and the early slogan for marketing the brand was “Delicious and Refreshing.” By 1895, according to the company history, the firm’s annual report stated that “Coca-Cola is now drunk in every state and territory in the United States.” The company worked to expand the value of sales in the early 20th Century by establishing a nationwide system of bottlers. From 1899 until 1920 the number of bottlers grew from two to over 1,000. The iconic bottle with its curves, still seen in retailers today, was created in 1916.

6. J.P. Morgan

The firm was formed in 1895 by J. Pierpont Morgan, one of the richest men in American history. It had operated before that under different names. The company provided early financing for U.S. Steel and, in 1895, supplied the U.S. government with $62 million in gold to underwrite a bond issue to improve that national balance sheet. The firm also provided financing for railroads to aid their expansions in the latter part of the 19th Century. The company was broken into two pieces as a result of laws established by the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933: JP Morgan—the commercial bank, and Morgan Stanley—the investment house. The commercial bank remained one of the primary banks in the U.S. and eventually became one of the cornerstones of JPMorgan Chase. Morgan Stanley remains one of the most famous investment banks in the U.S. and around the world.