We all have our favourite brands. From food and technology, to fashion and cars. Some of the world’s most famous businesses are also some of the oldest. And a few of them even started out in a completely different industry to what they’re known for today.
Each year, millions of new businesses are launched globally. But not all stand the test of time. In fact, only 25% of new businesses make it to 15 years or more. But some of our best-loved brands have remained strong, despite the many market changes they’ve withstood over the years. Wars, recessions, and even a pandemic haven’t stopped these companies in their tracks.
So, here’s a brief history of some of the world’s most iconic brands, who are all probably a lot older than you think. And we’ll discover how they’ve grown to become some of the wealthiest companies around today.
Tiffany & Co. – 1837
Established in New York, this iconic jewellery and luxury brand became the destination for diamonds when Charles Lewis Tiffany began buying gemstones from European aristocrats in 1848. He then took them back to the U.S., allowing the nation’s elite to purchase major jewels at home for the first time.
Tiffany first gained international fame in 1867 at the Paris World’s Fair where it won the grand prize for silver craftsmanship. And as well as their iconic jewellery, Tiffany also produced the NFL Vince Lombardi Super Bowl Trophy for the first Super Bowl in 1967. And also the NBA Championship Trophy in 1978, which stood two feet tall. Since then, they have grown into a global design house at the forefront of innovative jewellery design and expert craftsmanship. The brand now has 326 stores worldwide and is worth an estimated $15.8 billion.
Nintendo – 1889
Did you know Nintendo, the world-famous video games company and creator of Super Mario was founded by Fusajiro Yamauchi way back in 1889? Though back then, this Japanese-based business produced and marketed hanafuda, a style of Japanese playing cards. The handmade cards soon became popular. So Yamauchi had to hire assistants to mass-produce the cards to keep up with demand.
Nintendo went on to produce several lines of traditional toys, before moving onto electronic toys. And they eventually broke into the video games market in the late 1970s. The company is now worth $55.74 billion and is the worldwide leader in the creation of interactive entertainment.
Clarks – 1825
The British shoe brand was established in 1825 by two brothers, James and Cyrus Clark. The company started out by creating rugs out of sheepskins. And in 1828, James began using offcuts from the rugs to produce slippers; the first Clarks shoes. By the early 1910s, Clarks became a must-have brand among the style-conscious in London. And by the early 1940s, Clarks had developed a new foot measuring system for children to ensure shoes were fitted correctly.
Clarks’ biggest ‘fashion’ moment was to come in 1950, when Nathan Clark designed the Desert boot. Inspired by boots from the bazaars in Cairo worn by British army officers, the simple suede ankle boots instantly took off. And today, Clarks is a well-loved brand which has made its way into almost every Brits’ wardrobe over the years. They now sell more than 50 million pairs of shoes a year in over 35 countries.
Sainsbury’s – 1869
John James Sainsbury and his wife Mary Ann opened the first Sainsbury’s store on London’s Drury Lane in 1869. And the business didn’t take long to flourish. It proved popular with locals due to the high quality but affordable goods on offer. And by 1881, three more stores were opened to help cater for the growing demand. The following year, they opened their first shop outside of London, in Croydon, which became Sainsbury’s flagship store.
In 1950, Sainsbury’s opened their first self-service store, with customers browsing aisles and selecting their own products. Today, there are more than 600 Sainsbury’s supermarkets, over 800 convenience stores, and 189,000 colleagues. And the focus on great value food and convenient shopping, whether in-store or online is supported by their brands – Argos, Habitat, Tu, Nectar and Sainsbury’s Bank.
Crayola – 1885
Synonymous with many childhoods, this famous art supplies brand was founded as “Binney & Smith Company” by cousins Edwin Binney and Charles Harold Smith in New York City in 1885. Originally an industrial pigment supply company, Crayola soon shifted its focus to art products for home and school use, beginning with chalk, then crayons. The first box of Crayola crayons had eight colours and sold for five cents in 1903.
Crayola is now a subsidiary of Hallmark Cards, and it hasn’t moved far from its original production centre in Pennsylvania. It employs more than 1,200 people globally.
Burberry – 1856
Iconic British fashion brand, Burberry, was opened in Basingstoke in 1856 by 21-year-old dressmaker Thomas Burberry. It was founded on the principle that clothing should be designed to protect people from the British weather. And in 1888, Thomas Burberry invented gabardine – the breathable, weatherproof and hardwearing fabric revolutionising rainwear. It was taken on expeditions by several explorers, including Dr Fridtjof Nansen and Sir Ernest Shackleton.
The world-famous Burberry trench coat was invented during the First World War, which at the time was functional rather than fashionable. And in the 1920s, the Burberry check, now registered as a trademark, was introduced as a lining to their rainwear. There are now more than 430 Burberry stores in over 50 countries. And the company has a net worth of $10.54 billion.
KitchenAid – 1919
This American home appliance brand was set up to produce stand mixers; the “H-5” was the first model introduced in 1919. It offered attachments that could do everything from slicing to straining, branding KitchenAid stand mixers as versatile “food preparation tools.”
The company faced competition as rivals moved into this emerging market. And so they introduced model “K” in 1937, the work of designer Egmont Arens. It was the first of its kind to use a bowl that secured to the base with an interlocking motion. And it was the first appearance of the now iconic “shape” which would later get its own trademark, and the world would know as KitchenAid.
Dishwashers were the second product line to be introduced, in 1949. Unlike other residential dishwashers that simply splashed water on dishes, the new dishwasher distributed water through a pressurised system. The dishwashers launched in pink and white. The iconic brand is today part of the Whirlpool company, which has a net worth of $16.16 billion.
Nokia – 1865
From its humble beginning in 1865 as a single paper mill operation, Nokia has found success over the years in a range of sectors. Including paper products, rubber boots, tyres, televisions and mobile phones. Nokia’s transition to a primary focus on telecommunications began in the 1990s.
The first GSM call was made in 1991 using Nokia equipment, which transformed the world of telecommunications. And then further success in the mobile phone sector allowed Nokia to become the best-selling mobile phone brand in the world by 1998. In 2003 they introduced the first camera phone, which made photography much more accessible to all.
To address increasing competition, Nokia entered into a strategic partnership with Microsoft in 2001. And in 2014, Nokia sold its mobile and devices division to Microsoft. In 2016 the Nokia brand re-entered the mobile handset market through a licensing agreement with HMD Global, allowing them to offer phones under the Nokia brand. And today, Nokia is the world leader in mobile communications, with a net worth of $32.02 billion.
Rolls-Royce – 1884
One of the most renowned car manufacturers in the world, Rolls-Royce grew from the electrical and mechanical business established by Henry Royce in 1884. Royce built his first motor car in 1904. And in May of that year, he met Charles Rolls, whose company sold quality cars in London. They agreed that Royce Limited would manufacture a range of cars to be sold exclusively by CS Rolls & Co. Success with the cars led to the formation of the Rolls-Royce company in 1906. And to the launch of the six-cylinder Silver Ghost, which was hailed ‘the best car in the world’.
At the start of the First World War, Royce designed his first aero engine – the Eagle. And from there, the company went on to set world speed records on both land and water. Rolls-Royce acquired Bentley in the 1930s and became one of the most famous British luxury car producers.
The Rolls-Royce Merlin aero engine powered the Hawker Hurricane and Submarine Spitfire in the Battle of Britain. And demand for the engine during the Second World War transformed the fairly small company into a major player in aero propulsion.
After undergoing several mergers and acquisitions, Rolls-Royce returned to the private sector in 1987 to create the only company in Britain capable of delivering power for use in air, sea, and on land. BMW took over responsibility for Rolls-Royce cars in 2003. Today, the company continues to design, manufacture and distribute power systems for aviation and other industries. And it remains one of the most prestigious luxury car brands.
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