The ’40s were a time of important innovations and medical breakthroughs in the US. Much of it was spurred on by research to support the war effort. There was also a significant number of iconic American brands founded in the 1940s.
These companies started off small, as most businesses did in those days. But over the ensuing decades, they spread across the country and became leaders in their industries. With only one that very recently became an exception, they’re all still operating on a large scale today, and still some of the most well-known brands around.
Here’s a quick look at just 15 classic American brands founded in the 1940s:
Famous US Brands Started in the 1940s
- American Broadcasting Company (ABC) – Like the other pioneer TV stations, ABC started as a radio network. Founded in October 1943, it expanded into television broadcasting in 1948. ABC now owns eight TV stations and has more than 230 affiliated stations.
- Best Western – Today, this lodgings chain has well over 4,000 hotels and motels around the world. The chain grew out of an informal network of independent roadside hotels throughout California that referred travelers to each other, becoming the Best Western brand in 1946.
- Carl’s Jr. – Carl and Margaret Karcher started a hot dog cart in 1941 in Los Angeles. In 1945, they moved to Anaheim, CA and opened a full-service restaurant called Carl’s Drive-In Barbecue. Next, two smaller versions of the restaurant opened as Carl’s Jr. Today, its parent company has more than 3,600 franchises and corporate-owned locations around the world.
- Coach – The company began in 1941 as a family-run business in a loft on 34th St. in Manhattan, with six leatherworkers hand-making wallets and billfolds. Focus switched to handbags, and in the 1950s and ’60s, much effort went into improving quality and creating innovative designs. Now it’s one of the most famous luxury handbag and accessories brands in the world.
- Dick’s Sporting Goods – With a $300 investment from his grandmother, 18-year-old Richard “Dick” Stack opened a small fishing supply store in Binghamton, NY in 1948. In the ’50s, it expanded into camping and sports merchandise. The chain now has more than 600 stores in 47 states, as well as several other brands.
- Estée Lauder – In 1946, Estée and Joseph Lauder started making four cosmetics. Two years later, they landed distribution through Saks Fifth Avenue. From there, things expanded quickly—including internationally to Harrods in London in 1960—and today it’s one of the most successful global manufacturers of makeup, skin and hair care products, fragrances, and more.
- Fender – The world’s most famous guitar maker was founded in 1946 by Clarence Leonidas “Leo” Fender. In 1950, it introduced its famous electric guitar known as the Telecaster, followed by the first mass-produced electric bass (the Precision Bass) and then the Stratocaster in 1954. These were integral to the evolution of rock ‘n roll music taking place at the time.
- Herr’s – This well-known snack brand began in 1946 when 21-year-old James S. Herr bought a small potato chip company in Lancaster, PA. Sales were ringing in at about $30 per week at first, but things really took off when Herr’s introduced different flavored chips starting in 1958. Herr’s is a beloved snack brand sold in 28 states today.
- Iams – One of the best-known brands of pet food began in 1946. Pet food wasn’t commercially available at the time, so people fed their cats and dogs homemade meals that often didn’t supply the right nutritional content for the animals. Animal nutritionist Paul Iams changed all this with his company, which he started in Dayton, OH.
- McDonald’s – Richard and Maurice McDonald opened the first location of the world’s most famous (and largest by revenue) fast food chain in San Bernardino, CA in 1940. It introduced its Speedee Service System in 1948, building off innovations by White Castle and revolutionizing restaurant service. Franchiser Ray Kroc, who became involved in the ’50s, is credited with much of the brand’s development.
- Minute Maid – A leading mass producer of orange juice and lemonade, the company started in 1945 when the National Research Company developed an evaporation method for concentrating OJ into a powder for the military. It won a contract, but it was canceled because the war ended. So, there was a shift to a commercial process and marketing instead.
- Paper Mate – This is one of the most famous manufacturers of ballpoint pens and other writing implements. It began when Patrick J. Frawley bought a ballpoint pen parts manufacturer that defaulted on a loan in 1941. The Frawley Pen Company invented an instantly drying ink in 1949, which it sold in Paper Mate pens, and the rest is history.
- Toys “R” Us – The only brand on our list that’s no longer in operation, this toy and children’s clothing retailer was founded in April 1948 and closed down globally in early and mid 2018. At its peak, this iconic company had around 800 stores in the US and another 800 international locations.
- Tupperware – Earl Tupper started The Tupperware Company in 1946 in Massachusetts. Its airtight plastic containers greatly improved at-home food storage. Even more innovative, though, was the company’s development of the direct marketing approach known as “Tupperware parties” that became all the rage in the ’50s.
- U-Haul – The name that’s now synonymous with do-it-yourself moving has been in business since 1945. Leonard Shoen and his wife Anna Mary Carty used an initial investment of $5,000 to build rental trailers in their garage in Ridgefield, WA. He split the fees with gas station owners, whom he franchised as rental agents.