History is everywhere if you bother to look.
We’re not talking about the Liberty Bell or Mount Rushmore here. Have you ever thought about the historic brands that surround you every day? Many of the products that you use, wear, or consume daily have a deep-rooted legacy in the modern global economy and are part of cultural evolution on every continent. A rare few have directly shaped the course of human history in the realms of industry, fashion, design, and technology.
During the final weeks of our move to our historic house in Maryland we discovered a lot of physical things that connected us to our past—old photos, sculpted pieces of driftwood from a vacation in the Bahamas, original Mexican artwork, etc.
But history isn’t just what you keep. It’s what you experience. And this is where brands come in. Like millions of other consumers, we stick to what we know and what works—among them style, innovation, and predictability (the good kind). In modern marketing terms that’s called legacy branding. Here’s our round up of our five favorite historic brands that live on decades later in our daily lives and have also shaped global culture and history.
Yes we had to start with a historic cocktail. One of my husband’s favorite weekend indulgences is a “Rum and Coke” and one staple in our liquor cabinet is Bacardi White Rum, which has an origin dating back to 1862. As it turns out, Bacardi Limited is the largest privately held, family-owned spirits company in the world and has been family-owned for seven generations. Known for their classic, clear ‘white’ rum that mixes well with pretty much anything on the planet, the brand now offers a portfolio of over two hundred brands and labels.
With its humble beginnings in a tin-roof structure with bats in the rafters (which inspired the logo still used today) in the beautiful Cuban port city of Santiago de Cuba, founder Facundo Bacardi Massó, a Spanish wine merchant born in 1814 in Sitges, Catalonia, Spain emigrated to Cuba in 1830. During this time, rum was made cheaply and “refined” it was not in the eyes of the Colonial aristocracy. Facundo experimented with making rum more “tame” by isolating a strain of yeast that is still used in the production today.
After experimenting with several techniques, Facundo also discovered that filtering the rum through charcoal would remove the rum’s impurities. On top of the filtering process, Facundo finally aged the rum in oak barrels, which mellowed out the delivery and made it the first clear or “white” rum in the world. On February 4th, 1862, the family purchased a small distillery that revolutionized rum making and that the world still enjoys today.
So every cocktail hour when I reach for the Bacardi ‘clear’ to whip up my husband a Cuba libre we’re toasting history as well as the future.
The first thing to know about me is that when I work from home, I am not in my top form in terms of style. I don’t particularly care about how I look when I am not going to actual meetings. But, when I clean up I do it well. When I do have face-to-face meetings or I am headed out I like to express my true self with fashion and accessories to be specific.
The award for the top historic fashion brand in our house goes hands down to Gucci. Oh how I love Gucci bags, belts and shoes and in particular vintage ones!
I have a closet full of “favorite things” but if you cornered me I’d always say it’s a custom pair of Gucci boots sized 5 ½ (very hard to find) that I stumbled across on Ebay almost fifteen years ago that still had the initials for the woman they were originally made for back in the 1970s. Even back in the early Ebay days, buying online especially clothes was a crapshoot, but the fashion Goddesses were on my side. When I opened the box and put the boots on they fit like they were stitched just for me from the ankle all the way up to the knee. Ever since Gucci has been one of the strongest anchor brands in my closet.
Gucci was founded by Guccio Gucci in Italy in 1921 with a line a leather goods and luxury luggage. Inspired by English nobility in London, Guccio took his inspiration back to his hometown of Florence. Faced with a shortage of foreign supplies during the dictatorial Fascist regime that ruled Italy at the time, Guccio played around with atypical fabrics like Jute and Hemp. One of Guccio’s most creative innovations was the burnishing of cane to create the bamboo handle that is still iconic to the brand today. Today, Gucci produces ready-to-wear men’s and women’s fashions, small leather goods, footwear, bags, travel accessories, fragrances, cosmetics, and children’s clothing all with the same attention to detail with a timeless aesthetic that will always be in style.
Our life would not be complete without being able to occasionally indulge in chocolate and with both of us being born in the state of Pennsylvania we cannot help but have an allegiance to Hershey chocolates, in particular the perfectly sized Hershey Kiss. The Hershey Chocolate Company was the brainchild of Milton Hershey, a candy manufacturer who in 1894 decided to produce sweet chocolate to coat his caramels and from that moment in time the rest is confectionary history! By 1900, the company was creating milk chocolates in bars, wafers, and other shapes with mass production bringing the unit cost down, which in turn allowed what was once only a luxury indulgence for the wealthy affordable to the masses.
Regarding our favorite Hershey chocolate, the Hershey’s Kisses, this simple yet delectable treat dates back to 1907. Hershey’s Kisses were first introduced with a flat bottom and conical shape that was individually wrapped in little squares of foil, but in 1921 with the advent of machine wrapping these perfectly sized chocolates took on the “plumed” shape that they are known for today and what signified to consumers that they were buying and eating genuine Hershey Kisses.
You may recall from previous blogs that we run both our personal and business balance sheets almost entirely on American Express. We have been loyal customers for years, and among other things in return Amex has funded trips to the Bahamas, southern Mexico, Palm Springs, Italy, and others through their historically generous points system. Peter has a surprise birthday trip for my upcoming 40th birthday in early October and I’ll bet you all of our rewards points that he’s not paying a dime.
With overly restrictive bank lending regulations still in place, we also tapped into our American Express cards to fund FindEverythingHistoric.com. Every small business, especially a start-up, eventually needs cash so in addition to investors you go where the money is flowing. In our case, the big banks’ loss (you know who you are . . . ) was American Express’s gain.
Ironically, when we visited the town of Aurora, New York last winter in a blizzard to stay at the Inns of Aurora, we quickly learned that this tiny town on the shores of Cayuga Lake was the home of several entrepreneurs who created many of the iconic brands that we all know and use today, including American Express. Founded in 1850, Amex was created by the merger of several existing, successful financial brands including Henry Wells’s, Wells and Company, William G. Fargo’s Livingston, Fargo & Company and John Warren Butterfield’s, Wells, and Butterfield & Company.
Initially, American Express was headquartered in what is now known as the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan and was the sole player in the express shipment business, including goods, securities and currency. In 1874, the company moved their operations to what is now the Financial District. Since its inception, American Express has become best known for its credit cards and traveler’s cheque businesses and the brand is considered to be one of the most admired companies in the world today.
As some of you may know from previous posts, we just moved and have been in the process of downsizing our lives so that we can take our business on the road in an Airstream to find the most unique and undiscovered historic nooks and crannies in the country. With downsizing also came a sudden opportunity to sell our wonderful Mercedes Benz AMG convertible. It was a difficult decision, but realizing that parking on the street (where cars seem to get hit daily with people fleeing the scene and leaving car owners stuck with a deductible and soaring insurance rates as a result), the decision became much easier to swallow. Who needs to worry about a car, right?
But I will miss the purr and classic lines of our car, not to mention cruising top down on 65 on a 75 degree sunny afternoon. One thing we’ve learned by downsizing is that cars are over-rated. When we bought our first Land Rover over a decade ago the salesman told us that it’s basically a “gas guzzling status symbol.” We drove off with it 20 minutes later. These days if we really want to go top down to dinner next month we’ll just Uber it. Let them deal with the insurance and liability!
Carl Benz, the founder of Mercedes Benz was awarded the German patent for his three-wheeled, self propelled, “Motorwagen” in 1886. The single-cylinder engine was the first automobile that forever changed the way in which people got around and has set the tone and legacy of Mercedes Benz still being a leader in innovation today.