Notes From The Frontier
America's Oldest Brands
Updated: May 11
They are iconic names we grew up with. Singer. Folgers. John Deere. Pabst. Pillsbury. Coca-Cola. Our moms getting out the Baker’s chocolate to make cookies. Writing with brand new yellow Ticonderoga pencils when we were little in elementary school. Our dads shaving with Remington razor blades. Eating Jell-o salads at our gramma’s house. Shopping at Sears. They were familiar, trusted names.
The legacy of American brand names also tells the story of America’s growth and expansion marching across the continent. King Arthur Flour, Old Farmer’s Almanac, the New York Stock Exchange founded in New England’s original colonies on the East Coast. Slightly later brands in the first half of the 1800s were founded in the raw new frontiers west toward the Mississippi in what is now America’s heartland. Jim Bean in Kentucky. Pabst, Schlitz, Miller beers in Milwaukee. John Deere in Illinois. Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis. Sears in Minneapolis, then Chicago. Lodge iron cookware in Tennessee. The South too fostered iconic brands. Both Pepsi and Coca Cola have southern roots: Coca Cola was founded in Atlanta. Pepsi Cola in North Carolina. Tabasco Sauce was founded in New Orleans. Moving farther west still, brands sprouted up from the rugged West boomtowns of California. Levi jeans in San Francisco. 20 Mule Team Borax was born in Death Valley. Wells Fargo stage lines near Sutter’s Mill. Folgers coffee in San Francisco.
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but the profit motive is its rich uncle! New civilizations mean opportunity and American entrepreneurs couldn’t respond fast enough to the burgeoning “huddled masses” of immigrant markets pouring into our young country “yearning to breathe free.”
But many iconic brands we know today had unlikely origins that might surprise you. Dupont has its roots in gunpowder manufacturing and provided more than half the gunpowder used in the Civil War--on BOTH sides! Yellow Ticonderoga pencils were patented and made first from the lead mines near Ticonderoga, New York and encased in wood as a writing tool to replace ink quills. Colgate did not start as a toothpaste but as a manufacturer of starch, soaps and candles, started by a devout Baptist immigrant named William Colgate, who believed “cleanliness was next to godliness.” Colgate introduced its first toothpaste in 1873, made of soap and chalk sold in jars. But its biggest innovation was packaging toothpaste in collapsible tubes in the 1890s. Jell-o had its ignoble origins as an afterthought—a by-product of the livestock yards. It is produced by boiling cow hooves and bones.
Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola both began as medicines made from coca leaves (from which cocaine is derived) and kola nuts (a primary source of caffeine). Both have powerful pharmaceutical properties. Coca Cola was developed in Louisiana by a Confederate Colonel, John Pemberton, who was wounded in the Civil War and became addicted to morphine. He began a quest to find a substitute for his drug addiction. A year before the official founding of Coca Cola, a Spanish drink called “Kola Coca” won a beverage contest in Philadelphia in 1885! Coincidence? You decide.
Remington started as a firearms manufacturer in 1816 but expanded to other iron and steel products such as sewing machines, flat irons, filing cabinets, batteries, and finally shavers and razor blades. Yuengling Brewing is America’s oldest brewery, founded in 1829 in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. The company stayed afloat during Prohibition by producing “near beer.”
Jack Daniels was orphaned at an early age and became inspired by a local preacher and moonshine distiller, whose Master Distiller was an African-American slave named Nathan Green. Green taught young Jack distilling techniques. Then Jack hired the black man as the FIRST master distiller for Jack Daniels Distillery! (Had Nathan not been born a slave, Jack Daniels Whiskey might be called Nathan Green Whiskey today!)
German immigrant Levi Strauss went out of San Francisco during the Gold Rush to sell canvas tents. But miners complained that what they really needed were tough pants that didn’t rip out when they put gold nuggets in their pockets. When Strauss met a customer named Jacob Davis who had an idea of riveting denim pants to strengthen the pockets, they went into business to produce jeans and patented the iconic brand of work pants in 1873. At first the signature metal rivets were put at all ripping points, including the crotch. But legend has it that Levi Strauss changed that after stooping too long at a campfire and the crotch rivet burned his....well... you know.
Blue jeans weren’t the only iconic brand born out of decidedly western frontier lore. Borax was first mined in the Death Valley desert and transported out with 20-mule teams. In 1891, the famous mule team logo was introduced for “20 Mule Team Borax” and has remained so ever since! So, too, the Wells Fargo logo of a galloping horses pulling a stagecoach and Levi Strauss's logo of two opposing horses hitched to the tough jeans, unable to pull them apart! Visual doffs of the hat to our cherished frontier history.
Below is a list of some of America’s oldest and most iconic brands. This list is by no means complete. Can you think of others?
1. Baker’s Chocolate -1765 – Dorchester, MA 2. King Arthur Flour – 1790 – Boston, MA 3. Old Farmer’s Almanac-1792–Lewiston, Maine 4. New York Stock Exchange - 1792-NYC 5. Dixon Ticonderoga – 1795 – Ticonderoga, NY 6. Jim Beam – 1795 – Clermont, KY 7. DuPont – 1802 – Wilmington, DE 8. Colgate – 1806 – New York City 9. Pfaltzgraff dinnerware-1811-York County, PA 10. Seth Thomas -1813–Plymouth Hollow, CT 11. Remington – 1816 – Ilion, NY 12. HarperColllins – 1817 – New York City 13. Brooks Brothers – 1818 -New York City 14. Yuengling Brewing – 1829 - Pottsville, PA 15. John Deere – 1836 – Grand Detour, IL 16. Macy’s – 1843 – Haverhill, MA 17. Pabst Brewing – 1844 – Milwaukee, WI 18. Brunswick Billiards – 1845 – Cincinnati, OH 19. Anheuser-Busch Brewing-1852-St. Louis 20. Wells Fargo – 1852 – Sutters Mill, CA 21. Miller Brewing – 1855 – Milwaukee, WI 22. Schlitz Beer – 1858 – Milwaukee, WI 23. Jack Daniel’s Distillery-1866-Lynchburg, TN 24. Leinenkugel Beer-1867-Chippewa Falls, WI 25. Arm & Hammer – 1867 – Ewing, NJ 26. Tabasco Sauce – 1868 – Avery Island, LA 27. Pillsbury – 1872 – Minneapolis, MN 28. Folgers Coffee – 1872 – San Francisco, CA 29. Levi Strauss – 1873 – San Francisco, CA 30. Heinz Ketchup – 1876 – Pittsburgh, PA 31. Coca -Cola – 1886 – Minton, LA 32. Sears & Roebuck – 1886 – Minneapolis, MN 33. 20 Mule Team Borax1891-Death Valley, CA 34. Lodge Cookware-1896-South Pittsburgh TN 35. Jello-O – 1897 – LeRoy, NY 36. Pepsi-Cola – 1898 – New Bern, NC
Originally posted September 12, 2019 on Facebook & NotesfromtheFrontier.com
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