The Stories Behind 5 Old American Brands

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Ever wonder about the stories behind the products you use daily? While baking recently, I noticed my chocolate was made in 1780. Not the chocolate itself, but the brand, Baker's Chocolate. Here are some of the oldest, most recognized names, their stories, and the reasons they've lasted so long.

1. Baker's Chocolate (1765)

In 1765, Irish chocolate maker John Baker and cocoa bean importer John Hannon went into the chocolate-making business. They built America's first chocolate mill and in 1780 started Baker's Chocolate Company. The chocolate was originally used to make sweetened chocolate drinks, an alternative to tea. In 1870, the company came out with its first baking booklet. In 1927 it was bought by General Foods, who later merged with Kraft.

Reason for longevity: Because it had a good shelf life, Baker's was one of America's first brands to be packaged and sold nationally. Additionally, the German Chocolate Cake, which became an extremely popular recipe after it was published in a Dallas newspaper, is the chocolate's signature dish. Interesting to note, the cake's origins are not German. A man named Sam German created the mild dark chocolate bar that is used in the cake for Baker's in 1852, and the company named the chocolate in his honor.

2. Yuengling Beer (1829)

yuengling.jpgDavid Yuengling, a man from Württemberg, Germany, settled in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, and started a brewery, originally called The Eagle Brewery, in 1829. Its management passed through the hands of David's sons, grandson, great-grandsons, and eventually his great-great-grandson and current owner: Dick Yuengling

Reason for longevity: It appears innovation was the key. During Prohibition, Yuengling created many "near-beer" brews including the Yuengling Special, The Yuengling Por-Tor, and the Yuengling Juvo, which were designed to replenish energy. They also opened the Yuengling Dairy, which provided ice cream and dairy products, across the street from the brewery, which remained open until 1985! And once the Prohibition was lifted, Yuengling created the "Winner Beer" and sent a truck load to President Roosevelt in appreciation of the repeal.

3. John Deere (1837)

john-deere.jpgJohn Deere was a blacksmith from Vermont who moved west in 1836. He saw opportunity in farming the vast prairies of the Midwest; however, the plow he had used in Vermont was much less effective in the sticky Midwest prairie soil. So he used a broken saw blade to make a steel plow that could better cut through the soil. In 1837, he began selling steel plows, and so began John Deere.

Reason for Longevity: Demand "“ the plow met pioneer farmers' needs for successful farming in the West. Diversification "“ by 1870 John Deere had five product lines. The company is now a producer of construction and forestry equipment, lawn care products, golf equipment, and clothing.

4. Jell-O (1845)

jello.jpgIn 1845, Peter Cooper obtained the first patent for a gelatin dessert but never promoted it. In 1897, carpenter Pearle B. Wait bought the patent from Cooper, added fruit flavoring, and took it to market with the name Jell-O—the name was his wife's idea. But success eluded Wait, and In 1899, he sold the patent to Orator Frank Woodward for $450.

Reason for longevity: Marketing. After Woodward invested in intensive advertising, the product finally took off. According to the New York Times, "Mr. Woodward dressed his salesmen in natty suits and told them to give free samples of Jell-O to homemakers — a technique familiar to anyone who shops at Costco. The salesmen would then go to the nearby groceries and persuade the owners to stock the product, which originally came in four flavors — strawberry, raspberry, lemon and orange." Woodward's Pure Food Company was renamed the Jell-O Company and was later bought by Postum Cereal, which became General Foods, which later merged with Kraft. I've read that 300 million boxes are sold annually (that's 9 a second).

5. Levi Strauss (1853)

levi.jpgLevi Strauss moved from New York to California after hearing news of the Gold Rush. He established Levi Strauss & Co, a wholesale dry goods business that sold imported goods to small stores throughout California. Miners, farmers, and other workers were often complaining of their shoddy pants, so Strauss created the "waist overalls" made with a fabric from serge de-Nimes, which later became known as denim. In 1872, Levi received a letter from a customer, Jacob Davis, who used Strauss' fabric and pants, but included metal rivets to make them stronger. He suggested the two go into business together and patent the process. In 1873, they received the patent for the riveting process and the blue jean was born.

Reason for longevity: The blue jean became an emblem of the American Western lifestyle. It sparked enormous demand, which at times was difficult for Levi Strauss to fulfill. The functional clothing later became fashionable, creating different lines and washes of the denim.

Be sure to read more of what Diana learned today here.

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October 15, 2008 - 9:26am
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