The Strange Origins of 10 Famous Brands

Amazon has grown from a tiny start-up operating out of a garage on second-hand computers to a global organisation responsible for a third of all online sales in the US, but it was very nearly called “Cadabra,” as in “abracadabra.” Founder Jeff Bezos quickly changed the name when his lawyer misheard the word as “cadaver.”


Starbucks, the largest coffeehouse company in the world, was originally going to be called Pequod, after the doomed whaling ship in Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick. Although writer Gordon Bowke favoured the name, his co-founders rejected it and the company settled instead on the name of the ship’s first mate instead.

Proctor & Gamble

Procter & Gamble was formed in 1837 by two men who met completely by chance. William Procter emigrated from England and established himself as candle maker in Cincinnati, while James Gamble, arriving from Ireland, apprenticed himself to a soap maker. The two men married sisters Olivia and Elizabeth Norris, whose father convinced his new sons-in-law to become business partners.


William Wrigley Jr. began by hawking his father’s soap products on the streets of Philadelphia. After moving to Chicago in 1891, Wrigley began offering shopkeepers free cans of baking powder as incentives to sell his products. When the baking powder proved to be more popular than the soap, Wrigley began selling that instead, tossing in two packs of chewing gum per order to sweeten the deal. The gum was such a hit that in 1893 Wrigley introduced two new brands of gum of his own: Juicy Fruit and Wrigley’s Spearmint.


Sony started life as a radio repair shop named Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation in post-war Tokyo. Its first original product was a tape recorder, but it was expensive and early sales were almost exclusively to Japanese law courts which had a shortage of stenographers. After struggling for two years to make their products more economically viable, co-founders Akio Morita and Masuru Ibuka produced their first “commercially successful” product: a transistor radio called the Sony TR-55.


NASCAR’s roots can be traced back to Prohibition when runners – people who delivered moonshine (a home-brewed whiskey distilled from corn, potatoes or anything that would ferment) – souped up their cars so they could outrun the federal tax agents determined to catch them. “Big” Bill France organized a meeting of drivers, car owners and mechanics at the art-deco style Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida, on December 14, 1947, to establish standard rules for racing. It was there that the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) was conceived.


Nintendo may have been a game company since its inception, but its analogue days were very different to the company we know today. The founder of Nintendo, Fusajiro Yamauchi, started out by producing handmade playing cards – first Japanese cards and then Western-style ones – in 1889, long before they began manufacturing video game consoles in the 1970s.


The roots of the company can be traced back to 1885, when a young door-to-door book salesman, David McConnell, realised that the perfume samples he gave to women who bought his products were more popular than the books themselves. McConnell soon switched his focus and began hiring female sales reps, whom he believed were better at networking with other women. Eventually the company focussed solely on selling perfume and other beauty products.


As a response to Nazi aggression across Europe during the 1940s, the Allies imposed sanctions on Germany, which included the restriction of ingredients used to make Coca-Cola syrup. Keen to ensure that sales didn’t drop as a result, the head of Coca-Cola’s German operation, Max Keith, decided to make a new product for the German market. During a brainstorming session on what to name the beverage, Keith said “use your imagination” or “fantasie” in German, and the name stuck.


This chain of international Marriott hotels and resorts started out as a humble A&W root beer stand in 1927. Proprietors J. Willard and Alice Marriott felt that the people of Washington, D.C. might appreciate an icy, well-priced drink during one of the city's deathly hot summers, and their little stand soon grew into a restaurant enterprise.

Baron Warren Redfern is a firm of UK and European patent and trade mark attorneys specialising in providing professional legal advice on all matters relating to intellectual property, patent applications and copyright law.

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