10 Famous Companies That Began in Early America

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In this age of Google, YouTube, Facebook and Silicon Valley startups churning out 20-something billionaires, even tech companies like Apple and Microsoft can seem ancient by comparison. And companies that started the tech revolution, giants such as IBM, seem older still. All of these relative business newcomers have a long way to go before they can match the longevity of these 10 iconic American brand names.

 

10. Brooks Brothers (Founded 1818)

Brooks Brothers is America's oldest clothier.

Brooks Brothers display: CCA 2.0 Brooks Brothers


The oldest clothier in the United States, Brooks Brothers is known not just for its fine men’s suits, but its innovation. If you’ve ever worn a wash-and-wear dress shirt, a shirt with a button-down collar, argyle socks or madras clothing, you can thank Brooks Brothers. Founded by Henry Sands Brooks in Manhattan, the company picked up its current name when his three sons inherited the business in 1850. Although the Brooks family sold the company in 1946, the brand lives on.

9. Remington (1816)

Remington began as a firearms company but branched out into making typewriters, shavers and other products.

Remington’s popular Model 870 shotgun; CCA-SA 3.0 J. Majonis.


The brand name Remington means different things to different people. Older writers, reporters, secretaries and college students grew up using the company’s typewriters. The Remington brand’s electric shaver starred in some memorable 1980s TV commercials (remember Remington CEO Victor Kiam’s commercial boast? “I liked the shaver so much, I bought the company”). But since the beginning, the Remington name has been synonymous with firearms and ammunition, driving American and Allied firearms supremacy in several wars. Today, Remington Arms is the largest producer of shotguns and rifles in the United States. And even if you have never wielded a firearm, or seen a typewriter or electric razor, you probably use a Remington innovation several times each day — in 1872, Remington developed the first typewriter with the “QWERTY” layout we still use today on computer keyboards and PDAs alike.

8. The Hartford (1810)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNDuKEbA8Fo

The Hartford boasts one of the most famous logos in the business world, but the company admits it isn’t sure when the image of a majestic stag first appeared. The earliest one on record is rather famous, appearing on an 1861 insurance policy issued to Abraham Lincoln. The insurance company traces its roots to 1810 in Hartford, Connecticut. Today, The Hartford is one of the world’s top insurance and financial management firms, with 2010 net income of $1.7 billion.

7. Colgate (1806)

Colgate toothpaste in a tube was introduced in 1896.

Colgate clock, the world’s largest clock, in Jersey City, N.J.; Alexandre Maio CC BY-NC 3.0


A candlemaker named William Colgate founded the William Colgate & Co. in 1806 in New York City. Business was good, but it took almost a century for the company to begin mass-producing its most famous product. In 1896, Colgate introduced the sales of toothpaste in the type of tubes still used today. In 1928, Colgate merged with the Palmolive brand (itself a famous American brand dating to 1864) to create the current Colgate-Palmolive Co. Colgate toothpaste remains an iconic toothpaste brand, sold in 200 countries and territories worldwide.

6. DuPont (1802)

DuPont developed an amazing number of materials we take for granted, from nylon to Teflon.

DuPont ad from 1971 touting the many DuPont materials used in a spacesuit; Courtesy of DuPont.


Think of the brand name DuPont, and you probably picture scientists peering into microscopes, developing amazing new chemicals or materials. The company developed many of the substances we take for granted, such as nylon, Teflon, Mylar, neoprene, Lycra and nomex. DuPont also developed Kevlar, the material used in bulletproof vests and helmets that have saved thousands of lives since Kevlar’s development in 1965. That’s ironic, given DuPont began in 1802 as a producer of gunpowder, and supplied much of the gunpowder used by the Union army in the Civil War. Today, DuPont is the world’s third-largest chemical company, employing some 60,000 workers.

5. Jim Beam (1795)

Jim Beam began making bourbon in 1795.

Jim Beam distillery, Clermont, Kentucky; CCA-SA 3.0 Bbadgett


Seven generations of the Beam family have been involved in making Jim Beam Bourbon, which began production in 1795. The family-owned company took a few years off in the early 20th century — that whole Prohibition thing obviously wasn’t good for business — but has since grown into one of the largest distilleries in the world as part of Beam Inc., headquartered near Chicago. But tourists can still get a look at the brand’s roots with a tour of the grounds at Jim Beam’s Clermont, Kentucky, distillery, where it all began more than 200 years ago.

4. CIGNA (1792)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uh-ER3lxtwk

We perhaps took a liberty in including CIGNA on this list, because the company’s original name, Insurance Company of North America (INA) changed after a 1982 merger with Connecticut General Life Insurance Co. (CG). From those modest roots as a marine insurance company in 1792, CIGNA has grown into a health-insurance company with some 30,000 employees in 2010. CIGNA maintains 66 million customer relationships in 29 countries.

3. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (1786)

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is the oldest newspaper in America.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette building in Pittsburgh; CCA- 2.0 Allie Caufield


The surprising thing here is that when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette began publication 225 years ago, Pittsburgh was a tiny outpost located in the desolate outback of colonial America, far from civilization. Yet the Post-Gazette — which ran a feature story on the adoption of the United States Constitution in its first year — predates more famous Eastern Seaboard daily newspapers such as the New York Times (founded in 1851), the Boston Globe (1872) and the Philadelphia Inquirer (1829). The paper has won four Pulitzer Prizes through the years.

2. Bank of New York Mellon (1784)

Alexander Hamilton founded the Bank of New York Mellon in 1784.

Bank of New York Headquarters, New York; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Wally G.


Alexander Hamilton is probably best known to many people for his fatal pistol duel with Aaron Burr in 1804. Before that, Hamilton played a key role as one of America’s “founding fathers,” and he later served as the first United States Secretary of the Treasury. Often overlooked is his role in founding the oldest bank in the United States, the Bank of New York, in 1784, which adopted its current name following a 2007 merger with Mellon Financial Corp. Bank of New York shares were the first corporate stock to be traded on the brand-new New York Stock Exchange in 1792.

1. The Greenbrier (1778)

The Greenbrier resort has hosted 26 U.S. presidents.

The Greenbrier; CCA-SA 3.0 Bobak Ha’Eri


This luxury resort in Southeastern West Virginia welcomed its first guests in 1778. Among the visitors in those early years: George Washington, who became the first of 26 presidents to stay at the famous resort. In recent years, the Greenbrier name has been synonymous with luxury resorts — AAA has awarded it a Five Diamond Rating. For those who don’t think they can afford a weekend stay, tours are available, including tours of the massive underground bunker the federal government built during the Cold War as a relocation site for Congress in the event of nuclear war.

 

(Editor’s note: This is not an inclusive list of the oldest companies in the United States, merely a list of 10 well-known brands that are essentially unchanged since the company’s formation. For example, J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, better known as Chase, traces its roots to 1799, but didn’t make the list as it was originally known as The Manhattan Co.)

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