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Our Most Fascinating Facts About Famous Brands

Did you know that Ben and Jerry learned to make ice cream via a correspondence course? Or that before Lamborghini was famous for luxury cars, they sold tractors? Many of the world’s top brands have fascinating stories, and we’ve collected some of our favorites from around the site for your reading pleasure.

McDonald’s Once Tried Making Bubblegum-Flavored Broccoli

Kids weren’t lovin’ it when McDonald’s tried to add bubblegum-flavored broccoli to Happy Meals. In 2014, the fast-food giant’s then-CEO, Donald Thompson, revealed the bizarre experiment at an event hosted by a venture capitalist firm. Under pressure to make Happy Meals healthier, the company reflected on how toothpaste and amoxicillin producers had used artificial bubblegum flavoring to make their goods more palatable to children. McDonald’s decided to try a similar tactic with the divisive cruciferous veggie.

“Mickey D’s” food scientists did successfully make broccoli taste like bubblegum, likely by employing a combination of strawberry, banana, and cherry flavors. However, a focus group of kids was confused by the final product, which they enjoyed about as little as standard broccoli (we’re guessing it wasn’t pink). The item was never added to the McDonald’s menu, so parents who want to impress their kids with a tastebud switcheroo will have to settle on cotton candy grapes.

The Marlboro Man Never Smoked

We all remember the Marlboro Man: an able-bodied outdoorsman, usually a cowboy, who enjoyed a hard-earned puff from his cigarette amid a day of honest labor, his steely gaze beckoning us to "come to where the flavor is" in the land of Marlboro Country. Except the real Marlboro Man never smoked — at least not the "original," an individual by the name of Bob Norris who featured in the brand's early TV commercials. A Colorado rancher who was offered the job after being seen in a photo with his friend John Wayne, Norris reluctantly became the face of an overwhelmingly successful advertising campaign by the Leo Burnett agency that made Marlboro the world’s top-selling cigarette brand by the 1970s.

But while Norris epitomized the Marlboro Man’s image of rugged individuality, he ultimately proved too principled to last in the role; when his children asked why he was promoting a product they were forbidden to try, he reportedly hung up his Stetson after 12 years of cigarette pitch work. Of course, Norris was an anomaly among his Marlboro brethren. While he lived to the ripe old age of 90, others who followed in his bootsteps learned the hard way what decades of smoking could yield, with several later publicly speaking out against the habit before dying from smoking-related illnesses.

Google Maps Once Listed a Town That Never Existed

There’s off the map, and then there’s Argleton. The English town was visible on Google Maps until 2009, which is notable for one major reason: No such place exists. So how did it get listed? Though never confirmed by Google, it’s been speculated that Argleton may have been a trap street — a fictitious road used by cartographers to catch anyone copying their work. The reasoning is as simple as it is clever: If a street (or, in this case, town) that you made up ends up on another map, you’ll have caught its creator red-handed in copyright infringement.

Though little more than an empty field in West Lancashire, Argleton once had its own (presumably auto-generated) job listings and weather forecasts. Once its (non-)existence became known on the internet, humorous T-shirts with slogans such as “New York, London, Paris, Argleton” and “I visited Argleton and all I got was this T-shirt” appeared online, too. Google itself was tight-lipped on the subject, releasing a brief statement noting that “Google Maps data comes from a variety of data sources. While the vast majority of this information is correct there are occasional errors.”

The Mall of America Is Owned by Canadians

Baseball, apple pie, and shopping — all three are American favorites. So it may be a bit surprising that one of the country’s largest shopping destinations is overseen by our neighbors to the north. That’s right: The Mall of America is owned by Canadians. Despite its name, the supersized shopping complex — found just outside Minneapolis in Bloomington, Minnesota — was developed by the Triple Five Group, a Canadian retail and entertainment conglomerate. (Notably, while the Mall of America is truly humongous, it was once surpassed in sheer size by the West Edmonton Mall, a Canadian shopping center built by the same company in the 1980s, and which reigned for decades as the largest mall in North America.)

In the decades since its opening, the Mall of America has grown, increasing to 5.6 million square feet and stuffed with 520 stores and 60 restaurants. For those who aren’t into shopping, there’s more to do than just wait around in the food court — today, the Mall of America is home to a 13-screen movie theater, an indoor theme park, a mini-golf course, and the largest aquarium in the state of Minnesota.

Lamborghini Began by Making Tractors

Today, the name Lamborghini is synonymous with automotive opulence, but the Bologna, Italy-based company has an origin story that’s more humble than you might expect. Born in 1916, Ferruccio Lamborghini served in the Italian Air Force as a mechanic during World War II, learning the ins and outs of some of the most advanced vehicles in the world. Returning home after the war, Lamborghini knew his home country would need to increase agricultural output to recover from the devastation of the conflict. With other tractor companies (one of them being FIAT) too expensive for his war-weary compatriots, Lamborghini put his mechanical skills to work and created cheap-yet-powerful tractors salvaged from surplus military material.

Starting with its first tractor, named Carioca, in 1948, Lamborghini Trattori became an immensely successful business. Lamborghini’s fortune from the tractor business, along with other proceeds from his dabblings into air-conditioning and heating systems, provided enough capital for Lamborghini to buy his own Ferrari 250 GT sports car in 1958. Ever the mechanic, Lamborghini was unimpressed with his Ferrari (especially its less-than-luxurious clutch) and even began a feud with Enzo Ferrari himself. So, he decided to make his own sports car, and in 1963, Automobili Lamborghini launched a legacy of fine automobile craftsmanship that has lasted for 60 years and counting. (They also still make tractors.)

Pringles Inventor Fredric Baur’s Ashes Were Buried in a Pringles Can

When considering a final resting place, most people ponder the conventional options, such as a coffin or, for those who prefer cremation, an urn. That was not the case for Pringles inventor Fredric Baur, whose devotion to his innovative packaging method (which stacks his perfectly curved creations in a tall tube) was so intense that he had his ashes buried in a Pringles can.

“When my dad first raised the burial idea in the 1980s, I chuckled about it,” Baur’s eldest son, Larry, has said of his father’s wishes. But this was no joke. So after the inventor died in 2008, his children made a stop on their way to the funeral home: a Walgreens, where they had to decide which can to choose. “My siblings and I briefly debated what flavor to use,” Larry Baur added. “But I said, ‘Look, we need to use the original.’” Baur’s ashes now rest, in the can, at his grave in a suburban section of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Nintendo Was Founded Before the Fall of the Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire feels like an entity of a time long past, while the name Nintendo conjures up images of modernity — electronics, video games, arcades, and mustachioed plumbers. However, Nintendo was actually founded before the Ottoman Empire ended, and this period of overlap isn’t measured in a matter of months or even a few years. When the Ottoman sultanate was eliminated in 1922 after the widespread geographic shuffle that followed World War I, Nintendo had already been in business for 33 years.

Of course, this wasn’t the Nintendo that many of us know today — Nintendo didn’t make its first electronic video game until 1975. Founded on September 23, 1889, Nintendo’s original mission was a humble one: selling playing cards, specifically Japanese-style cards called Hanafuda. The company did pretty well, but decided to expand further in later decades. Nintendo struck a deal with Disney in 1959 to create playing cards with Disney characters on them, and in the 1960s, Nintendo sold a series of successful children’s toys, including Ultra Hand and Home Bowling, before becoming the official Japanese distributor of the Magnavox Odyssey — the first commercial home video console. Seeing the promise of such a machine, Nintendo threw its weight behind this emerging entertainment category. The rest, as they say, is history.

Volvo Gave Away Their Seat Belt Patent to Save Lives

Seat belts are a standard feature in today’s cars and trucks, but it hasn’t always been that way. In the 1950s and ’60s, car manufacturers weren’t required to include safety belts in vehicles. When they were built in, the earliest seat belts were simple two-point restraints that secured across the waist (aka lap belts). While a step in the right direction, lap belts had some downsides — they didn’t protect the upper body during a collision and could even cause injuries during high-speed crashes. Recognizing these issues, Swedish carmaker Volvo hired Nils Bohlin (a former aviation engineer who helped create pilot ejection seats) as the company’s safety engineer, and tasked him with a redesign. Bohlin’s creation — a more comfortable V-shaped belt that stays in position across both the chest and hips — was drafted in under a year, and is the style used in cars today. Volvo quickly added the belts to its cars in 1959, before the inventor even secured a patent. But when he did, Bohlin and Volvo didn’t look to profit off the safety feature. Instead, they released the design publicly, urging all car manufacturers to add the upgraded belts. After years of presentations and crash test dummy demos, Volvo eventually made headway — the evidence of which is found in our cars today and credited with saving lives around the world.

Michelin Stars Were Originally Connected to an Effort to Boost Tire Sales

In the restaurant business, there is no greater honor than the Michelin star. Awarded on a ranking from one to three, Michelin stars are the standard of greatness when it comes to fine dining. Chefs pin their reputations on them, and having (or not having) them can make or break a business. So it might seem strange to discover that this culinary accolade is intimately entwined with… car tires. Brothers Andre and Edouard Michelin, founders of the Michelin tire company, created the Michelin Guide — a free booklet full of useful information for French motorists.

To help raise the guide’s prestige (and also help motorists explore Europe again following World War I), the brothers reintroduced the handbooks in 1920, featuring more in-depth hotel and restaurant information — and instead of being free, they now cost seven francs. Within a few years, Michelin also recruited “mystery diners” to improve its restaurant reviews (they still work undercover), and in 1926, they began handing out single Michelin stars to the very best restaurants. Five years later, Michelin upped the amount of possible stars to three, and they have continued searching for the world’s best food in the nearly a century since. Today, the guides — and stars — cover more than 30 territories across three continents.

It Took the Editors of the Oxford English Dictionary Five Years Just To Reach the Word “Ant”

If you think reading the dictionary sounds exhausting, try writing one — largely by hand, no less. That’s what the editors of the original Oxford English Dictionary had to do after the Philological Society of London deemed existing dictionaries “incomplete and deficient” in 1857. They had their work cut out for them: In 1884, five years after beginning what they thought would be a decade-long project, principal editor James Murray and his team reached an important milestone — the word “ant.” That year, they began publishing A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (as it was then known) in installments called fascicles, with the 10th and final fascicle seeing the light of day in 1928. To say that the project’s scope was larger than anticipated would be putting it mildly. What was intended as 6,400 pages spread across four volumes ballooned into a 10-volume tome containing 400,000 words and phrases. The dictionary took so long to finish, in fact, that Murray died 13 years before its completion.

Ben and Jerry Learned How to Make Ice Cream by Taking a $5 Correspondence Course

The founders of the country’s leading ice cream brand spent only a pint-sized sum learning how to make their product. Both growing up on Long Island, New York, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield became friends in seventh grade, back in 1963. Originally, they set their sights on being a doctor (Greenfield) and an artist (Cohen). But once they reached their 20s — a rejected medical school applicant and a potter who dropped out of college — they decided to enter the food industry instead. The duo came close to becoming bagel makers, but realized that producing ice cream was cheaper (bagel-making equipment can be pretty pricey). Their dessert education arrived through a Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences correspondence course, which sent them a textbook in the mail and required only open-book tests.

All of the ice cream was made in a 5-gallon machine, and Ben & Jerry’s shop originally sold eight flavors: Oreo Mint, French Vanilla, Chocolate Fudge, Wild Blueberry, Mocha Walnut, Maple Walnut, Honey Coffee, and Honey Orange. However, as the flavors got wilder — think Chunky Monkey, Cherry Garcia, and Phish Food — many more outposts and a wholesale delivery business followed, as did an IPO. In 2000, Unilever — the parent company of Breyers and Klondike — paid $326 million to acquire Ben & Jerry’s.

Pepsi Was Originally Called “Brad’s Drink”

Pepsi has been nearly synonymous with cola for more than a century, but it wasn’t always called that. We have pharmacist Caleb Bradham to thank for the bubbly beverage, as well as its original name: Brad's Drink. Believing that his concoction had digestive benefits, Bradham sold it at his pharmacy in New Bern, North Carolina. Brad’s Drink didn’t last long, however — it was renamed Pepsi-Cola in 1898. The new name was partly derived from the word “dyspepsia,” a technical term for indigestion, and was meant to convey the tasty beverage’s supposed medicinal properties. Bradham trademarked the name in 1903, and the company grew exponentially over the next few years, with 240 franchises opening across 24 states by 1910.

“IKEA” Is an Acronym

You’d be forgiven for assuming that IKEA is a Swedish word related to furniture. In fact, it’s an acronym that combines the initials of founder Ingvar Kamprad (IK) with the name of the farm where he grew up (Elmtaryd) and a nearby village (Agunnaryd). Kamprad was just 17 when he founded the company in 1943, initially selling small household items — think pens and wallets — rather than beds and sofas. He likely had no idea that there would one day be more than 450 IKEA stores across the globe.

Walt Disney’s Cartoons Were Originally Called “Laugh-O-Grams”

Before founding the animation studio that bears his name, Walt Disney was a commercial artist in Kansas City, Missouri. It was there, around 1919, that he began making hand-drawn cel animations of his own, which were screened in a local theater and dubbed “Laugh-O-Grams.” The studio he acquired following his cartoons’ success had the same moniker, but it was a short-lived venture — Laugh-O-Gram’s seven-minute fairy tales and other works were popular with audiences, but financial troubles forced Disney to declare bankruptcy in 1923.

Disney, his brother Roy, and cartoonist Ub Iwerks moved to Hollywood the same year and founded Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, which quickly changed its name to Walt Disney Studios at Roy’s behest. Had it not been for Laugh-O-Gram, however, it’s likely that Disney’s most famous creation would never have been born. The inspiration for Mickey Mouse came from a brown mouse who frequented his Kansas City studio trash basket — a “timid little guy” Disney was so fond of that before leaving for Hollywood, he “carefully carried him to a backyard, making sure it was a nice neighborhood,” at which point “the tame little fellow scampered to freedom.”

Guinness World Records Started Out as a Guinness Brewery Promotion Intended To Help Settle Bar Bets

In 1954, Sir Hugh Beaver, the managing director of Guinness, thought up a way to reduce pub disputes so bartenders could focus on pouring his company’s signature beers. He suspected that every bar could benefit from a book filled with verified facts and stats about subjects that might arise mid-conversation over a drink. Two events in particular prompted his decision: Earlier in the decade, he and fellow guests at a hunt in Ireland memorably argued about Europe’s fastest game bird, which they had no means of identifying. Then, on May 6, 1954, English athlete Roger Bannister became the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes, causing public interest in records-related news to surge. Norris McWhirter had served as the stadium announcer during Bannister’s historic run, and Beaver hired both him and his identical twin, Ross McWhirter — another sports journalist — to assemble The Guinness Book of World Records.

The McWhirter twins spent about three months working feverishly on their 198-pagecompendium. Although initially meant to be given out for free at bars to promote Guinness, the book became so popular, the company started selling it, soon to great success. To date, more than 150 million books from the series — eventually renamed Guinness World Records — have been purchased, educating readers in 40-plus languages.

Chef Boyardee Was a Real Person

The world knows him as the jovial-looking fellow whose face has graced untold numbers of ravioli cans, but to those who knew him in life, he was Ettore “Hector” Boiardi — which is to say, Chef Boyardee was a real person. Born October 22, 1897, in Piacenza, Italy, Boiardi was working as an apprentice chef by the age of 11 and founded the company bearing his name in 1928, after he and his family settled in Cleveland. The business began because Boiardi’s restaurant there was so successful that patrons wanted to learn how to make the dishes at home, which was remarkable for the time — Italian food wasn’t nearly as well known (and beloved) as it is today. In fact, Chef Boyardee has been credited with helping to popularize the cuisine in America. There was just one problem: “Boiardi” was difficult for Americans to pronounce, so his products were sold under the phonetic name of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee (since simplified to its current spelling).

The Zelda Video Game Was Named for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Wife

Video games aren’t often associated with literary figures, but the Legend of Zelda has always been unique. Take, for instance, the fact that its title character was named after writer, artist, and Jazz Age icon Zelda Fitzgerald, whose marriage to The Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald generated nearly as many headlines as his professional output. Zelda, who’s been described as the first flapper of the Roaring '20s (and the inspiration for Gatsby’s Daisy Buchanan), was chosen because a Nintendo PR rep suggested that the eponymous princess should be “a timeless beauty with classic appeal” and that Zelda Fitzgerald was one such “eternal beauty.” The name chain didn’t end there; actor Robin Williams was such a fan of the series that he named his daughter after the Princess of Hyrule. As for Zelda F. herself, she was — rather fittingly — named for the fictional heroine of a 19th-century novel.

Starbucks Coffee Was Almost Called “Cargo House”

The world’s largest coffeehouse chain, Starbucks, almost had a very different name. According to a 2008 Seattle Times interviewwith the company’s co-founder Gordon Bowker, the famous java chain was once “desperately close” to being called “Cargo House,” a name meant to tie the first store (in Seattle’s Pike Place Market) to the idea of beans coming from far away. Anxious for another, more pleasing moniker, a brand consultantworking with Bowker mentioned that words starting with “st” felt especially strong. Bowker ran with the idea, listing every “st” word he could think of.

The breakthrough moment occurred after the consultant brought out some old maps of the Cascade mountains and Mount Rainier — both close to the company’s hometown of Seattle — and Bowker stumbled across an old mining town named “Starbo.” The name lit up a literary reference embedded in his mind: Starbuck, a name of a character from Herman Melville’s 1851 masterpiece Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. Bowker readily admits that the character has nothing to do with coffee, but the moniker stuck, and the company doubled down on the nautical theme by introducing a mythological siren, likely influenced by a seventh-century Italian mosaic, as its now-famous green-and-white logo.

About 200 Feral Cats Roam Disneyland, Where They Help Control Rodents

Spend enough time at Disneyland and you’ll see them. Maybe you’ll spot one snoozing in the bushes near the Jungle Cruise or observing you warily as you ride the tram, but one thing is certain: However many cats you see, there are more out of sight. About 200 feral cats roam the Happiest Place on Earth, where they earn their keep by helping to control the rodent population. The felines were first seen not long after Disneyland opened in 1955, when they took up residence in Sleeping Beauty Castle, and it soon became evident that keeping them around had more advantages than trying to escort them off the premises.

The mutually beneficial alliance even includes permanent feeding stations for the cats, as well as spaying or neutering and vaccinations. Though not official cast members, these adept hunters — who mostly come out at night — have earned a devoted following of their own. There are websites, Instagram feeds, and YouTube videos devoted to them. They’re not quite as popular as the actual rides at Disneyland, of course, but for cat lovers, they’re an attraction all their own.

Salvador Dalí Designed the Chupa Chups Logo

You may not know it by name, but you’re almost certainly familiar with Salvador Dalí’s best-known work, “The Persistence of Memory,” which depicts melting clocks on a bleak landscape. No less famous, albeit in an entirely different way, is the Chupa Chups logo — which Dalí also designed. While the idea of a surrealist collaborating with a lollipop company may sound odd, it begins to make sense when you learn a bit more about the eccentric artist — starting with the fact that he was close friends with Chupa Chups founder Enric Bernat, a fellow Spaniard.

The two met at a café one day in 1969, with Bernat making Dalí aware of his need for a logo and the world-renowned artist quickly taking care of it for him. He did so with great intention, of course: “Acutely aware of presentation, Dalí insisted that his design be placed on top of the lolly, rather than the side, so that it could always be viewed intact,” Phaidon notes. Dalí reportedly designed the instantly recognizable daisy-based logo in less than an hour on that fateful day, and it’s still in use decades — not to mention billions of sales — later.

The First Logo for Apple Featured Sir Isaac Newton Sitting Under an Apple Tree

Apple has always been known for its design. Before its iconic logo resembled an actual apple, however, it featured Sir Isaac Newton sitting under an apple tree. This is, of course, a reference to the legend of Newton formulating his law of universal gravitation after getting bonked on the head by a falling apple — which ranks among history’s best-known “aha!” moments. The more widely accepted version of events is that Newton merely observed a falling apple, but that doesn’t make the event any less fun to ponder. In addition to the drawing, the logo featured a line from poet William Wordsworth: “Newton … a mind forever voyaging through strange seas of thought … alone.” The logo — which debuted when the company was founded in 1976 — was short-lived, however, in part because co-founder Steve Jobs felt the design couldn’t be effectively rendered in smaller versions. Soon, he hired graphic designer Rob Janoff, who came up with the logo now recognized worldwide.

Some Historians Consider Cracker Jack America’s First Junk Food

It all started with Chicago candy and popcorn peddlers Frederick and Louis Rueckheim, German immigrants who crafted a non-sticky caramelized popcorn as a way to stand out from other popcorn vendors. Their version — with a sweet, crunchy coating that was different from the salted popcorn and kettle corn available at the time — became a hit after it was mass-produced in 1896.

Cracker Jack’s early marketing warned prospective customers about the effects of the product. “Do not taste it,” one 1896 article cautioned. “If you do, you will part with your money easy.” Some historians believe that the caramel-coated popcorn and peanut treat jump-started the American snack food industry around the turn of the 20th century. It may even hold the title of the country’s first junk food, though the types of junk food popular today didn’t make their appearances until the 1950s. It was a song, however, that helped cement Cracker Jack’s snack status. In 1908, songwriter Jack Norworth — entirely unknown to the Rueckheims — composed “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” after seeing an advertisement for an upcoming game. The song, which mentions the snack by name, led to a surge in sales that forever linked Cracker Jack with sports.

There Is Only One Remaining Blockbuster Location — In Bend, Oregon

At its peak in 2004, Blockbuster, the wildly successful movie rental chain, boasted 9,094locations. Today it has just one. Bend, Oregon, is home to the former giant’s last remaining outpost, a status the store attained when its counterpart in a suburb of Perth, Australia, closed in 2019. Originally opened in 1992 as Pacific Video, the location became a Blockbuster franchise store eight years later — and doesn’t look to be closing any time soon. That’s thanks in part to the 2020 documentary The Last Blockbuster, which contributed to the brick-and-mortar store being cemented as a tourist attraction among nostalgia-minded visitors.

There Are Three Mandatory Flavors of Girl Scout Cookies Sold Each Year

Though there have been many changes to the kinds of Girl Scout Cookies sold over the decades, three stalwart flavors are mandatedeach year: Thin Mints, Do-si-dos (also called Peanut Butter Sandwiches), and Trefoils. None of these varieties existed in their current form in the earliest years of cookie sales, but a version of Thin Mints can be traced back to 1939, when troops started selling a flavor known as “Cooky-Mints.” By the 1950s, shortbread had joined the lineup, alongside the renamed Chocolate Mints and sandwich cookies in vanilla and chocolate varieties. Peanut Butter Sandwiches hit the scene soon after, and by 1966, all three of the aforementioned flavors were among the group’s bestsellers. Other cookies came and went in the decades that followed, but Thin Mints, Do-si-dos, and Trefoils have been staples since the 1970s — and for good reason.

The Name "Snapple" Is a Portmanteau

The brand name Snapple is a portmanteau of two words — "snappy" and "apple." When the company began in 1972, founders Leonard Marsh, Hyman Golden, and Arnold Greenberg (who ran a health food store in New York City's East Village) aimed to sell fruit juice-based soft drinks. One early product was a carbonated apple soda called "Snapple." That original product wasn't without its issues, however: Some of the bottles would ferment, sending the caps flying. That didn't deter the trio, who went on to become some of the first to sell soft drinks made with natural ingredients. They officially changed the company's name from Unadulterated Food Products to "Snapple" in the early 1980s.

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