10 Companies With Surprising Origins

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Here are 10 companies with surprising beginnings.


Here are 10 companies with surprising beginnings.

Number 10. Taco Bell. The fast food chain’s founder, Glen Bell, started off selling hot dogs. Once McDonalds moved into his neighborhood and proved to be formidable competition, Bell started searching for a unique food that would give him an edge. He found it in quick serve tacos.

Number 9. NASCAR. If it weren’t for prohibition, the car racing series may have never been launched. The fast machines were originally used by bootleggers so they could outrun police. In their downtime, they’d race. The events happened sporadically and without rules until a fan named Bill France stepped in. He organized them under a governing body and within months the first NASCAR event was held.

Number 8. Tiffany. The mention of the name quickly conjures images of sparkly gems and beautiful jewelry, but back in the day it was just a small stationery store. So small, in fact, it only made 5 dollars on its first day of business. The merchandise selection expanded over time and the store’s original owner, Charles Lewis Tiffany, eventually became known as the ‘King of Diamonds’.

Number 7. Marriott International. The company that would eventually become one of the most successful lodging chains in the world began with a 9-stool A&W Root Beer stand. Founder, J. Willard Marriott kept expanding his business holdings and in 1957 opened his first hotel.

Number 6. Gap, Inc. When the first Gap opened in San Francisco in 1969 they had plenty of jeans, but they also sold records. Once the clothing side of the business took off, the records were tossed to make room for more apparel. Eventually, the Gap started to manufacturer its own merchandise and by the early 90s sold it exclusively.

Number 5. Nintendo. They were always in the game business, but in their early years focused on the card variety. Throughout their long history Nintendo has dabbled in toys, food, and hotels. They became a global household name, though, after they released their first electronic entertainment device in 1983 – nearly 100 years after the company was founded.

Number 4. Avon. In the late 1800s, Founder David McConnell was selling books door-to-door, but thanks to his female clients realized cosmetics was likely a more lucrative business.

Number 3. American Express. Founded in 1850 as an express shipping company in Buffalo, American Express began to expand its assets in New York just four years later. By 1874 they were headquartered there. In 1890 they introduced a revolutionary new type of currency – the Travelers Cheque.

Number 2. Wrigley’s Gum. When William Wrigley Jr. arrived in Chicago he made his living as a soap salesman. He offered his customers free baking powder as a bonus, and eventually it became the more popular product. Being adaptable, he switched his main sales offering to baking powder and changed his free gift with purchase to his own gum. Clearly, the gum was a huge hit and became Wrigley’s focus.

Number 1. Nokia. Though it was just a modest pulp mill, Nokia made the most of what they had – access to hydropower. They expanded into electricity and soon after were acquired by Finnish Rubber Works, who later also purchased a cable company.
The three were combined and by the 1990s were fully committed to advancing themselves in the telecommunications industry.

What corporate transformations do you find the most intriguing?

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