Mental Floss

The Stories Behind 5 Old American Brands

Diana Wolf
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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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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