Surprise! American icons that aren't American
Ahh, what's more American than enjoying a cold bottle of Budweiser while your kids enjoy some Good Humor ice cream? It sounds so "American," right? Surprise! These two good ol' standbys are not American -- or at least not U.S. owned.
Whether they never were American or were simply bought by foreigners, freelance writer Carol Vinzant takes a look at 13 iconic American brands, companies and products that are currently owned abroad.
Nestle, a Swiss company, is the owner of the Toll House brand of chocolate morsels, baking supplies and cookie dough. But, at least the cookies are an American invention. Ruth Wakefield owned the Toll House Inn outside Whitman, Mass., and baked colonial-inspired desserts. Her big hit was a butter cookie that she flavored with bits of a Nestle chocolate bar. In the mid-1900s, she and Nestle struck a bargain. They could use the Toll House name and in return she got a lifetime supply of chocolate. In 1939, Nestle started selling chocolate "chips."
Tretorn, Puma & Adidas
Adolph "Adi" Dassler of Germany basically invented sneakers in 1920 and started the Dassler company with his brother, Rudolph. After a fight, Rudolph founded Puma and Adolph renamed his company Adidas. For a while, Adidas was under control of the French and Robert Louis-Dreyfus, cousin of Julia. It's now German and owns Reebok. Puma bought Tretorn, the classic preppy shoe, which was originally Swedish.
It was never French. It's no longer American. It's British! Created by American brothers with the last name French, it was invented for the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. French's mustard was actually first introduced as a salad topping. During the anti-France fury at the start of the Iraq War, French's made a point of telling the world: "For the record, French's would like to say there is nothing more American than French's Mustard." Except that it's now owned by Reckitt Benckiser, a British conglomerate.
Beer drinkers were shocked when Belgian beer juggernaut InBev put the moves on Anheuser-Busch, which initially tried to fend off the bid. However, on July 14, 2008, it was announced InBev would buy its rival for $52 billion. On November 18, 2008, the acquisition was completed and control over America's largest brewer moved overseas.
Harry Burt, a Youngstown, Ohio, candy maker, got the idea to put chocolate-coated ice cream on a stick in 1921. He sent neatly dressed Good Humor men to sell the bars from white trucks. Lipton bought Good Humor in 1965. Unilever, the British-Dutch conglomerate, had bought Lipton in 1937. Unilever is now the world's biggest ice cream maker. It also owns Ben & Jerry's and Breyers.
It's hard to imagine a Dutch company called Koninklijke Nederlandsche Petroleum Maatschappij becoming a household name in the U.S., so call it by its nickname: Shell, or the more formal Royal Dutch Shell. The Shell nickname comes from a British trading company that specialized in Asian shells in the 1830s, then turned to oil. The Royal Dutch part comes from an oil company started in 1890 and merged with Shell in 1907.
The original Trader Joe was 26-year-old Joe Coulombe, a manager at Rexall Drug, which wanted to get into convenience stores. In the sixties, Joe bought the convenience store chain from Rexall, changed the name and concentrated on offering affordable, exotic foods with a healthy and environmental bent and tropical decor. German billionaires Karl and Theo Albrecht, who owned ALDI, bought Coulombe out in 1979 but kept him as CEO.
The Southland Ice Company started selling food at off hours to customers in 1927. By 1946 -- long before the concept of 24/7 -- the company changed the store name to 7-Eleven to advertise its long hours. The founder tried to buy out the company but got caught in the market crash of 1987. His largest franchisee, Japan's Ito-Yokado, got equity and now its parent, Seven and I, own 7-Eleven.
A Memphis family driving to D.C. was appalled by local motels, so the father, Kemmons Wilson, already an entrepreneur and builder, vowed to start his own chain. He opened the first Holiday Inn -- named after the Bing Crosby movie -- in 1952. The green neon signs sprang up around the country, luring weary travelers with the promise of consistent quality. He retired 27 years later and then the firm was bought by Brits from Bass (as in the beer), a company that later morphed into InterContinental Hotels Group.
Optometrist Sanford Ziff opened a kiosk in Dadeland Mall, Miami, in 1971, hoping to sell luxury sunglasses. He sold off part of the business to expand, then cashed out completely after two decades. The company gobbled up rivals and expanded overseas. In 2001 Italian eyewear seller Luxottica Group bought it.
Henry Firestone started the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio, in 1900. The company expanded rapidly across the country and into all kinds of other businesses. In the 1970s the company had to pay the then-largest corporate fine ever after its radial tires were blamed in 34 deaths. The company cut back radically and sold itself to Japan's Bridgestone in 1988.
Armour, the Chicago meatpacking company, sold, canned and used the byproduct tallow to make soap. When they added a germicide in 1948, Armour branded the soap Dial because you could wear it for 24 hours -- or around the dial. The company went through many corporate machinations, was owned by Greyhound for a while, and in 2004 the Dial Corporation was bought by conglomerate Henkel KGaA, based in Dusseldorf, Germany.
An Indiana inventor made the first refrigerator that didn't need ice in 1915, but his company couldn't produce it efficiently. General Motors bought the company and rechristened it Frigidaire. White Consolidated Industries snapped up Frigidaire and other floundering appliance makers in the 1970s. Then Sweden's AB Electrolux bought it in 1986.
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