33 Companies That Changed American Culture for Better or Worse

Man in the car planning a route using a Google Maps application on Apple iPhone 5S
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Business is one of the engines that keeps America moving, helping to shape our culture and how we live. It’s the fashion, art, entertainment, food, and other experiences that drive our day-to-day lives — be that good or bad. Here's a closer look at how some companies have impacted society over the last hundred years and beyond, in ways we may never have expected.


Related: Big Names That Changed With the Times to Avoid Being Canceled

Hagley DuPont Wagon
Ukexpat

1802

Products that make life easier are the forte of DuPont, creator of chemicals and science-based goods. Thanks to the conglomerate, we have construction materials, personal protective equipment, and medical devices. Dupont is also one of the largest producers of GMO (genetically modified organisms) hybrid seeds. Another interesting note: DuPont played a significant role in the Manhattan Project and atomic bomb, and provided the Union with gunpowder during the Civil War.


Related: Everyday Words That Are Actually Brand Names

Macy's Thanksgiving Parade
Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

1858

For much of the TV-watching nation, the annual Macy's Day Thanksgiving Parade is a tradition not to be missed. It originally began in 1924 as a Christmas parade that featured zoo animals. Macy's also originated the concept of "window shopping," thanks to its in-store Santa and window displays to attract customers. Let's not forget to add the movie "Miracle on 34th Street" to Macy’s claim to fame: The Santa of the Herald Square store in New York is the focus of the film.


Related: Iconic Department Stores We Miss

Bottle of Bayer aspirin, 1899
Bayer AG

1863

The German pharmaceutical company created the "drug of the century" — aspirin. The company trademarked it in 1899 and aspirin soon became the No. 1 drug in the world. Even though Bayer lost the rights to drug during World War I, "aspirin" continues to be used. The company also marketed heroin as a cough suppressant and over-the-counter treatment for pneumonia, tuberculosis, and morphine addiction in the early 1900s.


Related: Products Your Grandparents Swore By That Are Still Worth Buying

The Levi's logo is displayed on Levi's 501 jeans on February 13, 2019 in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

1873

After Levi Strauss received a patent for riveted pants in 1873, he created blue jeans and called them “waist overalls.” They were sold to industrious coal miners in the California gold rush for $3; today, they can go for hundreds, and are seen in the workplace as casual attire.


Related: The History of American Jeans: From Railroad to Runway

Three people look under the hood of an automobile in front of a Standard Oil gas station.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

1870

The first and largest multinational corporation was cofounded by John Rockefeller and controlled nearly all oil production, processing, marketing, and transportation in the United States. Standard Oil got its monopoly creating companies and buying rival refineries. In 1882, these became the Standard Oil Trust, which controlled 90 percent of the nation's refineries and pipelines. In 1911, the U.S. Supreme Court dissolved the monopoly, and from the breakup came Mobil, Amoco, Chevron, and Exxon.


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Two banks of high power water-cooled amplifying tubes, part of the high power portion of a radio telephone transmitter. This apparatus was used in the transatlantic telephone tests by the American Telephone and Telegraph Company and the Radio Corporation
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

1877

The largest telecommunications company in the world is also the largest provider of mobile telephone services and the largest provider of fixed telephone services in the U.S. Frankly, communications as we know it would not be possible without AT&T.

circa 1955: A salesman demonstrates the effectiveness of a General Electric vacuum cleaner to a prospective customer.
R. Gates/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

1892

Thomas Edison cofounded General Electric, which eventually became one of the largest corporations in the world. Millions of lives have been changed thanks to such products as lightbulbs, toasters, dishwashers, lamps, and other home appliances. The corporation is also involved in diesel locomotives, jet engines, water treatment systems, and media and entertainment.

A Photograph of the Store Front for Sears, Roebuck and Co in El Paso, Texas circa 1940.
Fotosearch/Getty Images

1892

Though the retail giant may have fallen on hard times, Sears changed many lives thanks to its catalog. Before online shopping or malls, the mail-order catalog offered low-cost options to people who either made their own furniture or went without, especially in rural towns. Also, the catalog is credited with helping women, African-Americans, and immigrants who were often discriminated against and barred from stores. The groups challenged inequalities by spending their money via the catalog, which Sears depended on.


Related: Devastating Photos of Dying Sears and Kmart Stores

Henry Ford With His Model T
Getty Images

1903

Production of the automobile in the 1900s consisted of parts being delivered by horse-drawn carriage and assembled on sawhorses. Henry Ford and his team changed all that in 1913 with the creation of the moving assembly line. His system cut assembly time for one vehicle from 12 hours to about 90 minutes. The large-scale production, known as “Fordism,” spread to other industries around the world.


Related: Why Ford Pickup Drivers Wouldn't Be Caught Dead in a Chevy

American actors Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda ride through the countryside on motorcycles in a still from the film 'Easy Rider' directed by Hopper.
Columbia Tristar/Getty Images

1903

One of the most recognized motorcycle brands in the world is known for popularizing this form of two-wheeled transportation in the U.S. and adding a dose of rebellious spirit. Harley-Davidson became the favored brand of outlaw motorcycle clubs like the Hells Angels and made a splash with non-bikers after the film "Easy Rider" showed two unconventional free spirits traveling cross country on Harleys.


Related: 11 Legendary Harley-Davidsons (and 5 Duds)

In this photo illustration, a meatless 'Impossible Slider' sits on a table at a White Castle restaurant, April 12, 2018 in the Queens borough of New York City.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

1921

Dubbed the first fast food chain in the world, White Castle is the eatery many frequent to satisfy late-night cravings for tiny burgers. In 1961, the chain became the first to sell more than 1 billion hamburgers. In 1986, it became a cultural phenomena when The Beastie Boys and The Smithereens saluted the “Crave Heard Round the World” on their albums. There’s also the 2004 classic flick “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.”

American producer, director, and animator Walt Disney (1901 - 1966) uses a baton to point to sketches of Disneyland, 1955.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

1923

It's simply Disney to most people, and creating worlds that are better than any reality is its mission. Pretty much everyone knows Disneyland, Disney World, and Mickey Mouse, but the empire also created movies, TV shows (“The Mickey Mouse Club”) and numerous animated characters. And though the movies and TV shows are beloved by many children, the company has made its mark with resorts, hotels, and restaurants.


Related: Cost of Disney Through the Years

A Marvel Fantastic Four comic book is seen for sale at St. Mark's Comics August 31, 2009 in New York City.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

1934 and 1939

Media and entertainment company Marvel Comics and comic book publisher DC Comics have played significant roles for more than 80 years in examining the ails of society. Both created in-depth and often flawed comic book and film characters from many eras who took on bigotry, racism, corruption and other forms of inequality.

Members of the American youth subculture generally termed 'hippies' walk along roads choked with traffic on the way to the large rock conert called Woodstock, Bethel, New York, August, 1969
Hulton Archive/Staff/Getty Images

1937

The VW Beetle was the little car that could — and did. Despite its Nazism baggage and initial slow sales in the U.S., the cheap and nonconformist Bug with its engine in the rear rose to icon status in the 1960s and '70s, becoming the biggest-selling foreign-made car in America. This was likely attributable to the fact that the free-spirited hippie counterculture claimed the Beetle as a status symbol, and that consumers began preferring smaller, more affordable cars.

A woman holds a copy of Ebony magazine, featuring a cover picture of U.S. presidential hopeful , Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) at a campaign stop at the Waukesha County Exposition February 13, 2008 in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
Joshua Lott/Getty Images

1942

Few know about the myriad successes and accomplishments of African Americans. However, Johnson Publishing Company sought to change that. The Black-owned company is celebrated for chronicling the experiences of Blacks in the pages of its two magazines — Ebony and Jet.

McDonald's french fries sit under a heat lamp during a one-day hiring event at a McDonald's restaurant on April 19, 2011 in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

1955

What began as two brothers’ hotdog stand has evolved into a fast-food empire with more than tens of thousands of locations in over 100 countries. Many love McNuggets, hamburgers, shakes, and fries. However, documentaries such as “Super Size Me,” which tracked the health troubles of its filmmaker after he ate only McDonald’s meals for a month, don’t help the company’s image.


Related: 23 Surprising Things You Didn't Know About McDonald's

Walmart carts are seen outside of a store as the company reported fiscal fourth-quarter earnings that fell short of analysts’ estimates on February 18, 2020 in Miami, Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

1962

Walmart is the biggest private employer and largest retailer in the world. In 2019, the company made $514 billion in income. Its alleged aim is to help people save money and live better lives, but the company's low prices are attributed to bargain-basement overseas products and low pay for employees.


Related: 10 Reasons Target Shoppers Avoid Walmart

Air Jordan I
Kevin

1964

You'll never be able to tell Nike to stay in its lane because it’s in so many of them. The sportswear company has a shoe for literally every scene and has linked exercise, hip hop, and streetwear. In 1977, Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman's book "Jogging" made running mainstream. In the 1980s, Michael Jordan endorsed the brand. In 2002, Nelly's "Air Force Ones" (named for the Air Force One shoe) landed at No. 3 on Billboard charts. Most recently, after the death of Kobe Bryant, Nike honored him with a new sneaker.

Legendary Gold's Gym, located in Venice, California, USA. Gold's Gym is a chain of fitness facilities across America first founded in California by Joe Gold. Gold's Gym in Venice was the first Gym of the chain opened in 1965.
anouchka/Getty Images

1965

Gold's Gym is seen globally as the authority in bodybuilding and has propelled fitness into a multibillion-dollar industry. With the help of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gold's shaped views about the ideal physique and the value of a healthy lifestyle, giving rise to the popularity of gyms, wellness centers, and health clubs around the world.

Customers relax and drink their beverages at a Starbucks Coffee shop on January 28, 2009 in Miami, Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

1971

Though it’s hard to remember how Americans drank coffee before Starbucks, many tapped canned commercial blends or went to local shops for a cup. Today, Starbucks has made espresso and customizable coffee drinks commonplace in America and was pivotal in jump-starting the coffee snobbery that came with it. Though no one suspected that a drink that cost 5 cents in a diner would someday be $5 and up, the price hike hasn’t turned off fans. Today Starbucks is the biggest coffee chain in the world.


Related: How to Satisfy Your $5 Starbucks Habit at Home

Apple Computer Inc. Intensified Its Challenge To Conventional Computer Design January 5, 1999 By Unveiling Five Bright New Colors For Its Unusual-Looking Imac Desktop Machine.
Getty Images

1976

Though Apple has been around since the late 1970s, its impact on culture really didn't happen until the 2000s, with the introduction of the iPod, iPad and iPhone. And though some of those products may not have been revolutionary because of previous iterations of phones and MP3 players, Apple's marketing ignited a wide-reaching spark at rebranding them and other tech.


Related: Apple Is Letting Customers Fix Their Broken Phones Themselves

Costco customers leave a Costco store on March 13, 2020 in Richmond, California. Some Americans are stocking up on food, toilet paper, water and other items after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Coronavirus (COVID-19) a pandemic.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

1976

With a laser-beam focus on offering good quality, low-price products, Costco has become the world’s most successful membership-only warehouse club. Its unique strategy is to keep shopping one stop and simple: no heavy sales job and no frills, just a warehouse full of goods for every niche, from basic groceries, to home goods and furniture. You can even buy coffins.


Related: 24 Costco Foods With Cult Followings

Victoria's Secret Angels Behati Prinsloo, Doutzen Kroes, Alessandra Ambrosio and Marisa Miller share their holiday gift picks at the new Victoria's Secret SoHo Store on November 18, 2009 in New York City.
Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

1977

In the late 1970s, Victoria’s Secret set the standard for beauty and fashion with its statuesque Bond-girl type models adorned in frilly bras and elegant panties. Despite longtime complaints that its marketing is over-sexualized, Victoria's Secret expanded into malls and hyped its annual fashion show. But times have changed, and consumers are pushing for more comfort and diversity. The company has responded with what some critics say is a long-overdue push to feature more diverse models and bodies, and recently made headlines by featuring its first-ever model with Down syndrome.

A worker from Istanbul Municipality disinfects a mosque to prevent the spread of the COVID-19, coronavirus ahead of Friday prayers on March 13, 2020 in Istanbul, Turkey.
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

1987

Helping people live longer, healthier lives has put California-based Gilead Sciences at the forefront in fighting some of the world’s most vicious diseases — AIDS, cancer, hepatitis, and the flu. Since the mid-1990s, the biotechnology company has made medicines for more than 11 million people across the globe. Also, it is the maker of the only two FDA-approved pills for PrEP, which is 99% effective in preventing HIV infection. As of late February, the drugmaker was expanding clinical trials of a medication to combat coronavirus.

A single cup gourmet brewer by Keurig is part the merchandise in the Grammy Gift Bag by Distictive Assets previewed on January 19, 2006 in Los Angeles, California.
Vince Bucci/Getty Images

1990

The coolest thing about your Keurig is the instant gratification: No time and effort are required to operate it. And the company, Keurig Green Mountain, still benefits from your convenience — it generated $4.1 million in sales in 2017. Single-serve coffee systems surfaced in the 1990s and became a hit thanks to companies such as Nespresso, but Green Mountain’s purchase of Keurig in 1997 really pushed the system to the top in the U.S. The K-Cup, unfortunately, was an environmental nightmare. Even John Sylvan, who created the Keurig in the 1990s, said, “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it.”

Planet Fitness Wall Street Grand Opening interior general view of Planet Fitness - Wall Street on September 16, 2013 in New York City.
Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for Planet Fitness

1992

Move over Equinox and Crunch, Planet Fitness is muscling in on your territory. With more than 1,800 locations worldwide, the strategy of "The Judgement Free Zone" is to attract the casual gym goer, or those simply looking to jump on a treadmill or get in an occasional lift. Planet Fitness is a cheaper option (starting monthly dues are $10) and a haven for those intimidated or annoyed by the typical gym bunny and gym rat.

Amazon.com worker Jennifer Bladow moves pre-packaged copies of the new Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, by author J. K. Rowling on a conveyor belt at the Amazon.com shipping facility July 11, 2005 in Fernley, Nevada.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

1994

Convenience and ease are two words that may immediately come to mind when thinking about how Amazon revolutionized online shopping. Other creations include cloud computing, digital streaming, gaming, delivery service, and AI — basically, anything that makes life easier. But with its low-price model and nearly unlimited access to products at all price points (even weird stuff), other companies have fallen in its wake: Borders, Toys “R” Us, Sears, and many others.


Related: Big-Name Stores We've Lost in the Past Decade

A young girl shops in an Old Navy store August 13, 2003 in Morton Grove, Illinois.
Tim Boyle/Getty Images

1994

Consumers’ appetite for low-priced, fashionable clothing launched Old Navy to early success: The company hit $1 billion in sales after being open for only four years. And clearly, people like bargains; the company collected $7.9 billion in 2018. The success can be credited to the company’s wallet-friendly prices on clothes for kids and adults, something that bigger retailers (Macy’s, Nordstrom) can’t match. Old Navy also made waves by recently saying it would offer all clothes in sizes up to 30 throughout stores, with no separate plus-size section.

Craigslist founder, Craig Newmark, poses in front of the Craigslist office March 21, 2006 in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

1995

What began as an email list among friends in the San Francisco Bay Area has evolved today into a platform that receives billions of page views a month, offering users a place to buy, sell (everything from the fabulous to the simply odd) or connect via the internet. Unfortunately, the site’s free, easily-accessible classified ads have been a crippling gut punch to the newspaper industry, which has failed to recover.

The Google.com home page shows the Athens 2004 Olympics version of the Google logo on a computer on August 18, 2004 in San Diego, California.
David McNew/Getty Images

1998

The multinational technology company Google has opened the doors to the world by making it easy to instantly access knowledge. Google has become a verb in common parlance, as in "to Google," and helps users track down useful data, such as health information, to apply for a loan, or look for work. Before this, people often spent hours in libraries. Life is made simpler, also, thanks to the handy tools Gmail, Google Maps and Earth, and Google Street View.


Related: Crock-Pot to Google: 26 Trademarks That Are Now Everyday Terms

Packages of DVDs await shipment at the Netflix.com headquarters January 29, 2002 in San Jose, CA.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

1998

When Netflix launched its site, the company was simply a rent-by-mail DVD service. Today, it is the world’s leading internet entertainment platform (and the inspiration for numerous competitors) and has more than 151 million paid subscribers in over 190 countries. Unfortunately, the company’s ability to offer so much content via streaming has caused many consumers to cut the cord, leaving cable companies in the lurch.


Related: Netflix Launched a Killer Feature That Makes It My Favorite Streaming Service Again

In this handout photo provided by SpaceX, a Tesla roadster launched from the Falcon Heavy rocket with a dummy driver named "Starman" heads towards Mars.
SpaceX via Getty Images

2003

To say that Tesla has had a major impact on the auto industry is an understatement. Thanks to the electric energy company’s driven ideas about clean energy and cars, its competitors have been forced to rethink how they build cars and the technology that’s in them. Still, other brands are playing catch-up, as Tesla’s Model 3 is the most popular electric vehicle by a substantial margin.


Related: Surprising Things Tesla Makes That Aren't Electric Cars

In this photo illustration a girl browses the social networking site Facebook on July 10, 2007 in London, England.
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

2004

It may be difficult to remember how we kept in touch before the advent of Facebook. The social media platform allows us to peek into others' lives and share what's going on with us. For better or worse, the platform has transformed the way people connect: It's been blamed for crippling traditional communication methods, yet praised for helping businesses build a customer base; it keeps you up to date with its newsfeed, yet leaves some open to anti-social behaviors and bullying. And it's recently been under fire for not doing enough to stop the spread of disinformation.


Related: I Quit Facebook for a Month and This Is What Happened