16 famous brands that started off as products for the military
Many of the world’s most famous brands have a military heritage.
Some brands proudly display their backgrounds in their logos, websites and marketing, while others would rather consign their early beginnings to the history books.
Either way, a surprising amount of brands started off by supplying products to the armed forces or discovered the products that made them famous during times of conflict.
1. The original Jeeps went into production in 1941, purpose-built for the military. Willys MB Jeeps became the most commonly-used 4-wheel drive vehicles of the US army during World War II.
2. Mars invented the recipe for M&Ms during the Spanish Civil War, when Forrest Mars Sr. saw soldiers eating pieces of chocolate covered in a candy coating, which prevented them from melting in the sun. He was on his visit behind the lines with a member of the Rowntree family, which went on to make Smarties — a candy very similar to M&Ms — sold outside of the US.
3. Vodafone began its life in the 1980s as a subsidiary of Racal Electronics, the UK’s largest military radio technology producer at the time. Racal was also once the third-largest British electronics company. Here’s Vodafone’s first mobile phone, the Mobira Transportable, which weighed 11 pounds.
4. Aquascutum was founded in 1851. British army officers wore its water-repellent grey raincoats during the Crimean War to help withstand the rain and mud in the Russian trenches (the brand’s name is derived from Latin words “aqua,” which means water, and “scutum,” which translates as shield.) And, a few decades later, here’s former Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill wearing one of its classic trench coats.
5. Probably the best-recognized sunglasses in the world, the Ray-Ban Aviator. Bausch & Lomb developed the style after being asked by the US Army Air Corps Lieutenant General to create sunglasses that would reduce the nausea and headaches pilots flying at high altitudes were experiencing. The original prototype was created in 1936 and had green lenses, which served as anti-glare without obscuring pilots’ vision.
6. Kotex sanitary pads actually started out as medical gauze to treat soldiers during World War I. Army nurses then adapted the wadding for menstrual purposes. In 1920, Kotex became Kimberly-Clark’s first consumer product.
7. Super glue was first discovered in 1942 when a team of scientists, who were looking for materials to make clear plastic gun sights for the war, came across a material that stuck to any other material it contacted. American researchers rejected cyanoacrylates (the chemical name for glue) because it was too sticky. But in 1951, they were rediscovered by researchers at Eastman Kodak. Super Glue began being sold as a commercial product in 1958.
8. Victorinox originated in 1864 from a knife cutler’s workshop Ibach-Schqyz, Switzerland. Founder Karl Elsener I went on to become the first major supplier of soldiers’ knives to the Swiss Army. Here’s one of the original designs.
9. Silly Putty was an accidental creation. It was invented in the 1940s by an engineer looking to create a synthetic rubber. During World War II, rubber was rationed in the US and the government asked companies to attempt to make an alternative in order to speed up wartime productive efforts. A practical use for the putty was never really found but, after a marketer placed a batch of the putty into little plastic eggs and began selling them for a $1, it became a world-renowned toy.
10. Hugo Boss was a member of the Nazi Party and in 1928 became an official supplier of uniforms organizations within the National Socialist party, including the Hitler Youth, Sturmabteilung (paramilitary), and the SS.
11. Fanta was first invented due to a trade embargo on importing Coca-Cola syrup into Nazi Germany during World War II. The then-head of Coca-Cola Deutschland decided to create a new drink made up ingredients actually available in the country at the time, such as whey and pomace. The result was Fanta, which comes from the German word “Fantasie.” Coca-Cola relaunched Fanta worldwide in 1955.
12. Banana Republic was founded by husband and wife team Mel and Patricia Ziegler in 1978, who began by re-purposing and selling vintage military surplus clothing and safari wear. The clothing retailer later expended to its own original lines and was acquired by Gap in 1983. Here is the very first Banana Republic in Mill Valley, California.
13. Porsche created the Volkswagen Beetle after Adolf Hitler expressed demand for a mass-market, sturdy, but cheap vehicle for Germany’s newly established road network. The first Beetle was manufactured in 1938. Here’s a 1963 Beetle, made famous by the movie “Herbie.”
14. Motorola originally started out as a battery-maker called Galvin Manufacturing Corporation. But in 1940 it developed the Handie-Talkie SCR536 portable two-way radio, which became a World War II icon.
15. The founders of Adidas and Puma were two brothers (Adi and Rudolf) who were partners at the Dassler Brothers Sport Shoe company in the 1920s and even supplied shoes to gold medal-winning African-American athlete Jesse Owens during the 1936 Olympics. But a fierce rivalry grew between them, which came to a head during World War II when the Allies bombed Herzogenaurach. Adi is reported to have exclaimed: “The dirty bastards are back again,” as he and his wife climbed into a bomb shelter already occupied by Rudi and his wife. Rudi thought it was directed at him, and as their conflict escalated, the two split the company in 1945. Adi named his new company Adidas, and Rudi called his Puma.
16. Duct Tape was first created by Johnson & Johnson during World War II, where soldiers had a need for strong, flexible, waterproof tape that could repair their machinery, equipment, and ammunition. It was nicknamed “Duck Tape” by soldiers, due to its duck cloth backing.
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