Bizarre Origins of Everyday Brands

Department store image by Editor999999

How often do we think about the brand names painted, sown, glued, or welded onto the objects we use every day? Probably not often, I imagine; it’s useful for telling one product from another, but what reason would we have to think about brands beyond “This one always makes good stuff, while this other one always has the lowest price”?

Yet looking at the history behind some of the companies whose ads surround us will reveal a surprising history that one would never have expected. Here are just a few of the strangest origin stories of everyday brands I have ever run across.

Yamaha, maker of motorcycles and… pianos?

Yamaha logo from Yamaha

Yamaha traces its origins to Nippon Gakki, a Japanese family business that made musical instruments. In the early 1950s, the company’s fourth-generation president, Genichi Kawakami, was looking at all the unused and idle manufacturing equipment he had in his factory and wondered what else could be made with it. After doing extensive research he settled on… motorcycles. Seriously, motorcycles.

Apparently, by sheer coincidence, this same idle equipment Genichi’s company had on hand would be able to make motorcycles just as well as instruments with just a few inexpensive modifications. So, in 1953, Genichi spun off the Yamaha Motor Company, a company that makes popular motorcycles, ATVs, snowmobiles, and other motorized vehicles to this very day. Meanwhile, Nippon Gakki changed its own name to Yamaha and now makes Yamaha-branded musical instruments. If you’ve ever wondered why you can buy both Yamaha pianos and Yamaha jet skis, that’s why.

The cymbals your favorite rock star uses are older than the United States

Zildjian hi hat by Bran van der Meer

In 1618, an Armenian alchemist named Avedis discovered a material made of a mix of metals that could make an incredibly loud sound when struck while also withstanding repeated heavy use without breaking. Naturally, Avedis made cymbals with this new material, and the Ottoman sultan loved the cymbals so much, he gave Avedis the honorary surname Zildjian (Turkish for cymbal-maker).

The Zildjian cymbal-making process remained a closely-guarded family secret for centuries. Then, in 1928, several members of the Zildjian family who had immigrated to the United States started their own cymbal-making company, and managed to get some popular jazz drummers to use their cymbals. This caused a major rift with the Zildjian family back home in the Old World, and for decades the two companies duked it out until the American-based company bought its rival, reuniting the family business in 1968.

Over the decades, a very long list of popular rock drummers and other musicians have sworn by Zildjian’s cymbals, and the family business (now based in Norwell, Massachusetts) continues to use that same, still-secret cymbal-making process 14 generations later!

Adidas and Puma were born of a sibling rivalry

Puma vs Adidas image by Paradise Developments

In 1924, German brothers Rudolf and Adi Dassler started a company called “Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory”. Their business really took off after Jesse Owens wore their shoes during the 1936 Olympics. However, the brothers really didn’t get along very well. World War II certainly didn’t help matters; when Rudolf was mistaken for an SS member by American troops, he thought Adi had reported him to them.

At last, in 1948, the brothers had enough of each other and split the company. Rudolf’s half became Puma, while Adi’s half became Adidas. The two companies were both based in Herzogenaurach, Bavaria, and their headquarters were located right across the river from each other. The townsfolk of Herzogenaurach got deeply invested in this sibling rivalry, dividing themselves into Adidas-wearers and Puma-wearers. It got to the point where one group of contractors hired to work on Rudolf’s house all wore Adidas shoes just to get a rise out of him; Rudolf made them change into Pumas before he’d let them get to work

Today, both companies are global brands widely sported by sports stars around the world as well as millions of ordinary folks. Yet the rivalry between the brothers is still visible at the Herzogenaurach cemetery, where the brothers are buried as far away from each other as possible.

Fanta soft drinks exist because of World War II

Fanta logo from Wikipedia

In the 1930s, as today, many American businesses were global and had divisions making and selling products in many countries, including in Germany. Coca-Cola had its own German division at the time as well, making Coke for millions of Germans to enjoy while, well, shall we say, other stuff was going on in the country.

Boy, I bet the Coca-Cola company would like to forget that these collectibles exist.

Boy, I bet the Coca-Cola company would like to forget that these collectibles exist.

Then in 1940, a U.S. trade embargo against Nazi Germany blocked Coke’s German subsidiary from being able to obtain the syrups needed to make the beverage from its American parent. Not only that, but the very next year Germany declared war on the United States, and Coke of Germany was completely cut off from all communications with Atlanta.

The head of Coca-Cola Germany, Max Keith, was determined to keep the plants running and his workers employed, so he and his managers came up with a new fruit-flavored soda made from whatever was on hand. They called it “Fanta”, and it became fairly successful. After the war was over, American companies resumed control of their German subsidiaries, and Max Keith handed the rights to the drink to Coca-Cola, who continues to produce it today.

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