Some of the hottest major brands around today are also relatively young: Apple debuted in 1976, Amazon was launched in 1995 and Google didn’t fully hatch until 1998. While these snazzy tech entities tend to dominate top rankings lists — wowing critics with their innovations and enhancements — there’s a lot to be said for brands that have proven their resilience and endurance by standing the test of time.
There are more than a handful of big-name companies that were founded over a century ago and are still going strong today. When they were created, there was no internet, no computer and many deadly viruses like polio and H1N1 influenza (the root of the Spanish Flu pandemic) — no vaccine. These businesses weathered the Great Depression, World War II and more. They’ve gone through their own ups and downs over the years — with some of them facing their greatest challenges yet as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last updated: June 2, 2021
The Coca-Cola Company was founded back in 1892, several years after the beverage was invented by the pharmacist John S. Pemberton. Back then, the fizzy drink spun as a tonic for numerous health ailments contained cocaine — which wasn’t removed from the formula until 1903. Over the years, the Coca-Cola Company has grown to become a giant in the beverage industry, ushering in other popular soda brands, including Sprite, Fanta, Schweppes and Diet Coke. Coca-Cola has a global brand value of over $70 billion, and its stock was trading at about $53, as of mid-December 2020.
2. J.C. Penney
J.C. Penney has had its ups and downs, and then more downs in recent years as in-store retail struggles to stay relevant, but 100 years ago, the brand had nothing but potential. Founded in 1902 by James Cash Penney, J.C. Penney was originally named The Golden Rule, named after the concept that one should treat others as they wish to be treated. The company had just one locale in Kemmerer, Wyoming, but grew in part because of its savvy expansion overseas and its adoption of mail-order catalogs.
In 2020, the brand announced that it would close up to 200 stores in a financial restructuring effort that saw the company file for bankruptcy in May. In December, Simon Property Group and Brookfield Asset Management Inc. purchased the department store chain. J.C. Penney stock has tanked, and as of Dec. 14, was trading for only 15 cents a share — which might have been decent back in 1902, but not today.
The United Parcel Service is young in comparison to the USPS, which was founded back in 1775, but UPS still weighs in at over 100 years old, having been established back in 1908 by a 19-year-old Seattleite named James E. Case and fellow teen Claude Ryan. Launched as American Messenger Company, the brand was renamed United Postal Service in 1925. UPS didn’t go public until 1999. UPS has had to tackle plenty of challenges during the pandemic — mostly related to an over-demand of its services. The shipping company had to turn down retailers after being overcapacity in December.
On the Wall Street side of things, UPS is faring well. A recent CNN poll among 26 investment analysts found the consensus to be that UPS is a good stock to buy, as it’s held steady since November. As of market close on Dec. 14, UPS stock was priced at over $166.
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The Boeing Company dates back to 1916, founded by timber merchant William E. Boeing as Aero Products Company. The aircraft manufacturer was renamed Boeing Airplane Company in 1917. The brand made major strides in the military, air-mail and, of course, passenger space, and for decades it looked like nothing could take Boeing down.
Two recent events changed all that: first, the regulatory ban placed on Boeing’s 737 Max, the company’s star aircraft, following two fatal crashes. Second is the pandemic, which bulldozed the air travel industry and prompted mass layoffs at Boeing. With the 737 Max cleared for takeoff in 2021, investor interest in Boeing has been resuscitated. As of the evening of Dec. 14, Boeing stock was at $229.15.
5. L.L. Bean
L.L. Bean, the retail giant famed for its no-nonsense winter wear with a cozy twist and its hefty mail-order catalogs, launched in 1912 under the helm of Leon Leonwood Bean. Originally, the brand focused on hunting shoes but grew over the decades to include other apparel for outdoorsy types. After all this time, L.L. Bean is still privately held. As of 2018, it employed 5,200 people yearly and garnered $1.6 billion in annual sales. 2020 hasn’t been too shabby either. As consumers turned to the great outdoors for solace and connection during the pandemic, L.L. Bean saw sales in the winter sports category up 165%, snow tube up 114% and snowshoes up 340%.
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Founded in 1903, Harley-Davidson is the oldest motorcycle brand in America. Harley-Davidson has as strong a brand heritage as they come and has honed an image that is practically synonymous with leather jacket-clad machismo, but the company has been struggling of late as it fails to lure younger generations. The average Harley-Davidson stock price in 2020 is $28.26; its all-time high, back in November 2006, was $75.50.
7. Kraft Foods
Founded in 1903 by James L. Kraft, Kraft Foods started as a cheese delivery service catering to the Chicago area. Soon after, James and his brother Charles Kraft patented a spoil-proof processed cheese that became a big hit with the U.S. Army during World War I. As a brand, Kraft has been moved around within various mega-corporations. In 1988, the tobacco giant Philip Morris scooped up Kraft, integrating it into its other food businesses, Nabisco and General Foods. Philip Morris eventually changed its name to Altria Group and Kraft split into two brands: one serving North America as Kraft, the other with a focus on international snacks as Mondelēz International. In 2015, Heinz acquired Kraft.
Kraft Heinz stock wasn’t looking too hot in late 2019 when 3G Capital tossed 25 million shares to drop its stake in the company to around 20%, but the pandemic turned all that around. Consumers have been buying more shelf-stable and packaged goods, showing rejuvenated interest in Kraft. At the end of October 2020, Kraft announced that it had beat its third-quarter earnings forecast, with quarterly sales up 6% to $6.44 billion.
It all started with a bowl of corn flakes back in 1894, and then the formal founding of the company, Kellogg’s, in 1900. Previously known as The Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, Kellogg’s took on its new and lasting name in 1922, once it expanded into making other cereals. Kellogg’s has continued to innovate over the years and now owns a number of major food brands such as MorningStar and NutriGrain.
Like Kraft, Kellogg’s has enjoyed a boom in sales as people are forced to stay at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kellogg’s fourth-quarter 2020 organic sales surged 4.5%.
The consumer credit reporting giant Equifax was founded in 1899, under the name Retail Credit Company. The credit bureau grew to become one of the largest in the U.S. by the mid-1900s. Perhaps best known for the 2017 data breach that compromised the personal information of 147 million people, Equifax is one of those companies that, thanks to its crucial role in modern finance, can survive even the worst of scandals. Despite the public shaming and costly legal fees, Equifax’s data breach didn’t put the company out of business, but it did set the company back by about $1.4 billion.
As of mid-December 2020, Equifax stock was popular in hedge fund portfolios, trading at $193.58 on Dec. 15.
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One of America’s favorite destinations, Target might be an expert in the latest trends, but it’s a very old business. Founded under the name Goodfellow Dry Goods in 1902, Target has stood out from the big-box competition over the years by staying focused on its appeal to younger shoppers and doubling down on the fashion space with top designer collaborations. Like its main competitors Walmart and Amazon, Target has profited during the pandemic. Target’s stock soared in 2020; in the third quarter, its revenue was up to $22.63 billion, from $18.67 billion in 2019.
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