This is a follow-up to our popular piece on 5 iconic US brands started in the ’50s. The 1950s have such a strong association with American ingenuity and pride, disposable income, and consumer optimism. All in all, as the US boomed after the second world war, the time was ripe for eager, enterprising entrepreneurs to establish new local businesses and spread them gradually across the nation.
While so many brands, products, and services from the fifties are now relegated to nostalgic memories and internet lists of bygone stuff, a number of now-iconic American companies founded in the 1950s are thriving to this day—even internationally in a number of cases.
Here’s a quick look at five classic brands started in the ’50s that many American still buy from today:
This is undoubtedly the most famous tax prep service provider in America. It was launched in Kansas City, Missouri in 1955, when brothers Henry and Richard Bloch placed a local newspaper ad for $5 tax preparation services at their small bookkeeping business.
To their surprise, the ad brought a huge turnout to their office the next day. Thus, H&R Block was born. They changed the spelling of their name to avoid people mispronouncing the ch like that in “chicken.”
The following year, they decided to expand to New York City, but neither of the Bloch brothers wanted to move there. So, they sold their first franchise to two accountants in the city. From there, the company grew rapidly.
By the mid-1980s, H&R Block was preparing around 10 million tax returns annually. Today, it’s prepared nearly 700 million tax returns across 12,000 locations in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and other US territories, and on military bases all around the globe.
Hush Puppies is one of the most well known casual footwear brands in the world. Today, more than 17 million pairs of these shoes for men, women, and kids sell in over 165 countries. Its iconic brushed-suede and lightweight crepe soles—as well as its adorable Basset hound mascot named Jason—are recognized around the world. But things of course didn’t start that way.
The footwear company Wolverine World Wide, which is based in Rockford, Michigan, introduced the Hush Puppies brand in 1958. The shoes grew out of the company’s work for the US military to develop an efficient, cost-effective method of pigskin tanning to create durable leather products.
And the name? When Wolverine sales manager Jim Muir ate dinner at a client’s home in Tennessee, he inquired why the fried cornbread balls they had were called hushpuppies. The client said farmers tossed them to barking dogs to quiet them down. Muir thought Wolverine’s comfy new shoes had a similar soothing effect on aching feet.
America’s most famous eatery for pancakes and other breakfast food—International House of Pancakes, better known today as IHOP—dates back to 1958. This successful franchise started as a single location in the Toluca Lake district of Los Angeles, California. It was founded by Jerry and Al Lapin, with some help from two investors, Albert and Trudy Kallis.
By 1960, the company was franchising, and it became publicly traded the next year. It wasn’t until 1973 that International House of Pancakes adopted its acronym form and began branding itself that way. In 1992, the 500th IHOP location opened; growth continued to snowball, and only 9 years later this was doubled as the 1,000th location opened in Layton Utah. In 1998, the company first hit the landmark of generating more than $1 billion in annual sales. Today, there are more than 1,650 locations in all 50 states and a number of other countries.
Although it stopped including its blue A-frame design (a mid-century modern architecture hallmark) in new construction by 1980, the restaurant chain is perhaps still as well known for that as for its food.
So, 1958 was a big year for American brands destined for greatness. This famed pizza franchise chain was also born that year, making it the third in a row on this list. Dan and Frank Carney, brothers attending Wichita State University, opened the first location in June that year in Wichita, Kansas.
In 1966, Pizza Hut’s iconic red roof appeared for the first time east of the Mississippi River, in Athens, Ohio. The brand has grown fairly continuously, known for introducing lots of varieties in its crusts, its popular “personal pan pizzas,” family-style sit-down restaurants, Pizza Hut Express, and even an attempt at a more upscale version called Pizza Hut Italian Bistro in select locations.
Today, Pizza Huts are everywhere across the US and all around the world. It was even one of the first American franchises to open in Iraq. In early 2017, Richtopia ranked Pizza Hut 24th on its list of the “200 Most Influential Brands in the World.”
Any dedicated American home cook—at least any with a significant kitchenware budget—knows the name Williams Sonoma. The name comes from its founder, Chuck Williams, who lived in Sonoma, California. He traveled to France in 1953 and became quite taken with French cookware.
In 1956, he opened Williams Sonoma to provide high-quality kitchenware to Americans. It was a fairly innovative concept, making restaurant-caliber cookware available to home cooks. This quickly earned Williams a reputation as a key player in the food revolution taking place in the US at the time.
He relocated to San Francisco in 1958 and served famous customers from the culinary world like James Beard and Julia Child. In 1972, he introduced a popular mail-order catalog (hinting, perhaps, at the company’s status today as one of the country’s biggest e-commerce retailers). The next year, the second store opened on Beverly Hills’ renowned upscale shopping strip, Rodeo Drive.
That same year, Williams Sonoma debuted the Cuisinart food processor to consumers. The brand has continued to grow, and currently has more than 600 stores across the US and internationally. It also operates other well-known brands like West Elm and Pottery Barn.