The Very First Products From The World’s Most Famous Brands

When you think of Colgate, you think of toothpaste. When you think of Tiffany’s, you think of high-end jewelry. But these companies didn’t start out making the goods we’re all familiar with today. They, and several others, have some interesting backstories that you may not know about.

If you ever wondered about the origins of brands such as Nike, Nintendo, and Toyota, then you’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn about the very first products that some of today’s most well-known brands made…

Lamborghini Started Out As A Tractor Business

Lamborghini tractor
Uli Deck/picture alliance via Getty Images
Uli Deck/picture alliance via Getty Images

Ferruccio Lamborghini created Lamborghini Trattori, which sold farming vehicles, in the late 1940s. The business was so successful, it enabled Lamborghini to dabble with other interests, including Automobili Ferruccio Lamborghini, which he launched in 1962. His aim was to build a luxury sports car to overtake Ferrari.

Two years later, the 350 GTV cemented Lamborghini’s position as a top automaker. The photo above shows Fabio Lamborghini, nephew of Ferruccio Lamborghini, on a Centenario Lamborghini tractor at the Geneva Motor Show in 2019. The Lamborghini family recently commemorated the 100th anniversary of the company’s founder.

The LEGO Creator Dabbled With Wooden Toys Before He Went Plastic

lego started out as a wooden product
Education Images/Getty Images
Education Images/Getty Images

You may not realize that a carpenter founded LEGO, a toy brand that is known for its iconic, plastic, interlocking pieces. During Denmark’s recession in the 1930s, Ole Kirk Kristiansen started making toys out of scraps of wood. His initial designs included trains, automobiles, and even a wooden duck that make a quacking sound.

Kristiansen tried his hand at plastic toys in the mid-’40s, but he had a difficult time drumming up any interest in them. Eventually, he created a product that people couldn’t resist, and the plastic LEGO bricks have been popular ever since.

Sony’s Founder Designed A Rice Cooker Decades Before The Sony Walkman Was Released

sony rice cooker
Pinterest/sonyelectronics
Pinterest/sonyelectronics

Before designing the Sony Walkman (which is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2019), Masaru Ibuka, the founder of the company, dabbled in cooking supplies. Following World War II, Ibuka set out to make a product for those who didn’t have appliances in their homes. He designed an electric rice cooker made out of wood.

The product was made under the name Tokyo Telecommunications Research Institute before Sony was incorporated. Unfortunately, the rice cooker was never released because it wasn’t a very good product. But one of the prototypes is on display at the Sony Archives in Shinagawa, Japan.

IKEA Started As A Mail-Order Business Focusing On Watches, Pens & Other Small Items

Ikea mail order company
Artyom GeodakyanTASS via Getty Images
Artyom GeodakyanTASS via Getty Images

IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad showed off his entrepreneurial prowess when he was just a child. He started buying matches in bulk in Stockholm and selling them to others for a profit (and he was just five years old). By the time he was 17, he started a business out of his uncle’s kitchen, which became IKEA.

Kamprad initially sold jewelry, watches, pens, and other items through a mail-order business in 1943. He eventually expanded to furniture sales, and in 1951 introduced the first IKEA catalog. Before long, furniture became the company’s main focus, and his other products were discontinued.

Before Samsung Made Foldable Phones, It Was A Trading Company That Exported Noodles

origins of samsung company
Martyn Landi/PA Images via Getty Images
Martyn Landi/PA Images via Getty Images

Lee Byung-chul established a trucking business in Daegu, South Korea, in 1938, which he named Samsung Trading Co. It was the predecessor to Samsung. Byung-chul traded noodles and other products and exported them to China. Following the Korean War, the company started manufacturing textiles.

Shortly afterward, the company created subsidiaries including Samsung Heavy Industries, Samsung Shipbuilding, and Samsung Precision Company. Samsung didn’t focus on electronics until 1969 when it produced black and white TV sets. It started its push to create home electronic devices in the ’70s.

Pharmacist Henri Nestle’s First Foray In Business Involved Baby Formula

chocolate bars
Hemant Mishra/Mint via Getty Images
Hemant Mishra/Mint via Getty Images

Nestlé is known for a variety of products, including chocolate, breakfast cereal, coffee, dairy products, ice cream, and other snacks. The company’s popular brands include Kit Kat, Smarties and Stouffer’s. However, it got its start in the baby formula business. German-born pharmacist Henri Nestlé created the product in 1867.

Nestlé aimed to create a formula that was easy to digest and called it “farine lactée,” or “flour with milk.” The product skyrocketed in popularity after it was proven to work on a sick premature baby.

Harley-Davidson’s First Motorcycle Didn’t Have Any Fenders

harley bicycle
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Pictured here is “Serial Number One,” the very first Harley-Davidson motorcycle, which is displayed at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The first Harley-Davidson prototype was built in 1903 by William Harley and brothers Arthur and Walter Davidson.

One problem with their first attempt at building a bike was that it resulted in a machine without enough horsepower to ride up a hill. The second bike they built had similar issues. They were finally successful with a model that had a larger engine in a loop-frame chassis. A friend bought the prototype before Harley was incorporated.

DuPont Supplied Gun Powder To The Union Army During The Civil War

dupont gunpowder
R. Gates/Archive Photos/Getty Images
R. Gates/Archive Photos/Getty Images

DuPont, or DuPont de Nemours, Inc., is one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical and biotech companies. But it wasn’t always focused on these industries. The business was founded by French-American chemist Éleuthère Irénée du Pont in 1802 in Delaware. His products? Gun powder and other explosives.

During the Civil War, DuPont supplied half the gun powder used by the Union Army in the Civil War. By the 1920s, the business’s Repauno Chemical Company was the largest dynamite manufacturer in the United States. Eventually, DuPont diversified and began offering a variety of different chemicals, including pharmaceutical products. In 2017, it merged with the Dow Chemical Company.

The Apple 1 Computer Paved The Way For The iPhone

early apple products
MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images
MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images

Steve Wozniak created the Apple 1 computer in 1975. He initially built the device to impress one of his friends during a Homebrew Computer Club meeting in Silicon Valley. Compared to today’s high-tech devices, including the popular iPhone, the Apple 1 was pretty basic. But it was a huge innovation at the time.

Steve Jobs was a member of the club and saw the computer’s potential. He approached a local computer store and sold 50 units for $500 each. Jobs even sold his VW to help buy some parts for the machines.

A Dentist From Chicago Bought Ford’s First Model A & Saved The Business

model a vehicle
Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

A Chicago dentist named E. Pfennig bought the first-ever Model A for $850 from Ford Motor Company in 1903. It was a relief for the automaker because it was struggling to stay alive after investing in car parts and paying employees. Just over a year later, Ford sold a total of 1,700 Model A cars.

Between 1903 and 1908, Ford produced the Models A, B, C, F, K, N, R, and S. In 1908, the automaker started mass producing the Model T, and millions were sold over the next two decades.

Nintendo Initially Sold Playing Cards (And Still Does)

Nintendo cards
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Fusajiro Yamauchi founded Nintendo as a playing card company in 1889 in Kyoto, Japan. Specifically, the company made hanafuda cards. It didn’t take very long for the cards to gain in popularity, and the founder was forced to hire assistants to meet the demand.

Nintendo was initially called Yamauchi Nintendo & Co. Ltd. before it became known as Nintendo Playing Card Co. Ltd. in 1951. While you may recognize Nintendo for its video games, it still manufacturers playing cards in Japan and holds the “Nintendo Cup” each year.

Toyota’s Founder Started The Auto Group With Funds He Made With An Automatic Loom

automatic loom
SSPL/Getty Images
SSPL/Getty Images

Pictured here is an automatic loom that was the first in the world in which you could change the shuttle while the machine was still working. It was made by Toyoda Automatic Loom Works Ltd of Japan. Sakichi Toyoda invented several manual and machine-powered looms during the ’20s.

The loom became so popular that Toyoda was able to launch the Toyoda Motor Company as a result. This machine is considered an important historical object in Japan due to its innovation and because it led to the creation of the Toyota Group.

Abercrombie & Fitch Sold Outdoor Gear & Outfitted Charles Lindbergh

Abercrombie was an outdoor gear shop
Robert Alexander/Getty Images
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

David Abercrombie founded Abercrombie Co. in 1892. It was initially a small shop in downtown Manhattan, New York. Believe it or not, he did not set out to outfit high school and college students. In fact, a wealthy New York businessperson named Ezra Fitch was one of his first customers.

The store sold sporting goods, and its core customers were outdoorsmen. At one point, the company created a suit for Charles Lindbergh that he wore to fly across the Atlantic. Limited Brands bought the company in 1988, and it became the mall staple you know today.

Colgate’s Creator Sold Soap & Candles Before Getting Into The Toothpaste Business

colgate toothpaste ad
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

William Colgate opened a shop in New York City in the early 1800s, but he didn’t sell the toothpaste that you can find on store shelves today — at least not at first. Instead, Colgate started off by selling starch, candles, and soap. In 1820, the Colgate company opened a starch factory in New Jersey.

Colgate didn’t produce toothpaste until 1873, nearly 70 years later. At the time, it was sold in jars. It wasn’t sold in a tube until 23 years later. Colgate went international in the 1920s, and today it’s a global brand.

William Wrigley Jr. Learned Quickly That Chewing Gum Was More Popular Than Baking Powder

 A view of a Time Square neon sign for Wrigley's Spearmint Gum in New York, NY.
Photo by Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Photo by Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

William Wrigley Jr. sold baking powder, and in 1892 started including chewing gum with his product as a gimmick to entice new customers. Before long, the gum became more popular than the baking powder, so The Wrigley Company switched gears and started producing its own gum.

Interestingly, the move drew men towards the product because traditionally only women chewed gum. In 1893, Wrigley created Juicy Fruit and Spearmint, which are still very popular today. The gum brand is worth several billion dollars, and its products are available in over 180 countries.

Taco Bell’s Founder Glen Bell Originally Sold Hot Dogs And Hamburgers

old taco bell restaurant
Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images
Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

Glen Bell, the founder of Taco Bell, didn’t always have tacos on his mind. In fact, his first drive-in in San Bernardino, Calif., was a hot dog stand that he launched at the age of 25. Two years later he opened Bell’s Hamburgers and Hot Dogs. When he noticed how popular a Mexican cafe across the street was, he opened a new restaurant called Taco-Tia.

In 1962, Bell opened the first Taco Bell. He sold his first franchise in 1964 to a Los Angeles police officer. By 1967 there were 100 Taco Bell restaurants in the country, and it went public in 1970.

Marriott International Has Roots In Root Beer

1950s 1960s MARRIOTT MOTOR HOTEL MOTEL SIGN AND BUILDING
D. Corson/ClassicStock/Getty Images
D. Corson/ClassicStock/Getty Images

Marriott International, one of the world’s largest hotel chains, used to sell root beer. Founder John Willard Marriott opened a root beer stand in Washington, D.C., in 1927. Within a few months, the place became a popular family restaurant called The Hot Shoppe. Before long, Marriott opened several more locations on the East Coast.

In 1957, he decided to expand into the motel business. The company became Marriott, Inc. in 1967. By the time of Marriot’s death in 1985, his company operated 1,400 restaurants and 143 hotels and resorts worldwide.

Nike Started Out As A Distributor For Japanese Shoe Maker Onitsuka Tiger

pair of nike shoes
Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Nike founder Phil Knight attended Stanford Graduate School of Business in the early ’60s and wrote a paper called, “Can Japanese Sports Shoes Do to German Sports Shoes What Japanese Cameras Did to German Cameras?” He then visited Japan and secured the rights to sell Tiger brands shoes in the United States.

In 1964, he and a partner created Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS), which would later become Nike. They distributed the Onitsuka Tiger Running Shoes, which were made in Japan. At one point, Knight sold the shoes from the back of his station wagon at track meets.

Hoover’s Electric Suction Sweeper Prototype Was Made Out Of Tin & A Pillow Case

hoover suction sweeper
Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Before Hoover became the giant vacuum company you know today, it made products that were much simpler. The first Hoover vacuum was known as the Electric Suction Sweeper (pictured here). Its body was a tin soap box, and it was also made with a broom handle, sateen pillow case, and a fan.

Henry Hoover’s wife’s cousin, James Murray Spangler, built the appliance because he had asthma and wanted to find a way to combat dust. Hoover bought the patent for the product in 1908.

Tiffany & Co. Sold Stationary Before Jewelry

Cabs Outside of Tiffany & Co., New York City
Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Charles Lewis Tiffany and John B. Young founded Tiffany, Young and Ellis in 1837 in Brooklyn, Connecticut. The first store in lower Manhattan was initially a “stationery and fancy goods emporium” where consumers could buy various stationery items. It wasn’t until 1853 that Charles Tiffany took control of the business and started focusing on jewelry. He renamed it Tiffany & Co.

What made Tiffany’s unique in the 1830s was prices were clearly marked on the items, which prevented haggling. In addition, the store only accepted cash payments, which was unusual at the time.