Shifting Culture
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34 Companies That Changed American Culture for Better or Worse

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Shifting Culture
pressureUA/istockphoto

Shifting Culture

Business, small or large, is the engine that keeps America moving, shaping our culture and establishing how we live our lives. It’s the fashion, art, entertainment, food and other modalities that drive our day-to-day experience, be that good or bad. Here is a closer look at how some companies have impacted society over the last hundred years and beyond.

1802 — DuPont
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1802 — DuPont

Products that make life easier are the forte of DuPont, creator of chemicals and science-based goods. Thanks to the conglomerate, we have construction materials, personal protective equipment, and medical devices. Dupont is also one of the largest producers of GMO (genetically modified organisms) hybrid seeds. Another interesting note: DuPont played a significant role in the Manhattan Project and atomic bomb, and provided the Union with gunpowder during the Civil War.

1870 — Standard Oil
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1858 — Macy’s

For much of the TV-watching nation, the annual Macy's Day Thanksgiving Parade is a tradition not to be missed. It originally began in 1924 as a Christmas parade that featured zoo animals. Macy's also originated the concept of "window shopping," thanks to its in-store Santa and window displays to attract customers. Let's not forget to add the movie "Miracle on 34th Street" to Macy’s claim to fame: The Santa of the Herald Square store in New York is the focus of the film.

1863 — Bayer
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1863 — Bayer

The German pharmaceutical company created the "drug of the century" — aspirin. The company trademarked it in 1899 and aspirin soon became the No. 1 drug in the world. Even though Bayer lost the rights to drug during World War I, "aspirin" continues to be used. The company also marketed heroin as a cough suppressant and over-the-counter treatment for pneumonia, tuberculosis, and morphine addiction in the early 1900s.

1873 — Levi
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1873 — Levi

After Levi Strauss received a patent for riveted pants in 1873, he created blue jeans and called them “waist overalls.” They were sold to industrious coal miners in the California gold rush for $3; today, they can go for as much as $258, and are seen in the workplace as casual attire.

1870 — Standard Oil
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1870 — Standard Oil

The first and largest multinational corporation was cofounded by John Rockefeller and controlled nearly all oil production, processing, marketing, and transportation in the United States. Standard Oil got its monopoly creating companies and buying rival refineries. In 1882, these became the Standard Oil Trust, which controlled 90 percent of the nation's refineries and pipelines. In 1911, the U.S. Supreme Court dissolved the monopoly, and from the breakup came Mobil, Amoco, Chevron, and Exxon.

1877 – AT&T
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1877 – AT&T

The largest telecommunications company in the world is also the largest provider of mobile telephone services and the largest provider of fixed telephone services in the U.S. Frankly, communications as we know it would not be possible without AT&T.

1892 – General Electric
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1892 – General Electric

Thomas Edison cofounded General Electric, which eventually became one of the largest corporations in the world. Millions of lives have been changed thanks to such products as lightbulbs, toasters, dishwashers, lamps, and other home appliances. The corporation is also involved in diesel locomotives, jet engines, water treatment systems, and media and entertainment.

1892 — Sears
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1892 — Sears

Though the retail giant may have fallen on hard times, Sears changed many lives thanks to its catalog. Before online shopping or malls, the mail-order catalog offered low-cost options to people who either made their own furniture or went without, especially in rural towns. Also, the catalog is credited with helping women, African Americans, and immigrants who were often discriminated against and barred from stores. The groups challenged inequalities by spending their money via the catalog, which Sears depended on.

1903 — Ford Motor Co.
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1903 — Ford Motor Co.

Production of the automobile in the 1900s consisted of parts being delivered by horse-drawn carriage and assembled on sawhorses. Henry Ford and his team changed all that in 1913 with the creation of the moving assembly line. His system cut assembly time for one vehicle from 12 hours to about 90 minutes. The large-scale production, known as “Fordism,” spread to other industries around the world.

1903 — Harley-Davidson
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1903 — Harley-Davidson

One of the most recognized motorcycle brands in the world is known for popularizing this form of two-wheeled transportation in the U.S. and adding a dose of rebellious spirit. Harley-Davidson became the favored brand of outlaw motorcycle clubs like the Hells Angels and made a splash with non-bikers after the film "Easy Rider" showed two unconventional free spirits traveling cross country on Harleys.

1921 — White Castle
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1921 — White Castle

Dubbed the first fast food chain in the world, White Castle is the eatery many frequent to satisfy late-night cravings for tiny burgers. In 1961, the chain became the first to sell more than 1 billion hamburgers. In 1986, it became a cultural phenomena when The Beastie Boys and The Smithereens saluted the “Crave Heard Round the World” on their albums. There’s also the 2004 classic flick “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.” In this photo illustration, meatless 'Impossible Sliders' sits on a table at a White Castle restaurant, April 12, 2018 in the Queens borough of New York City. The meatless burgers, which sell for $1.99, are about twice the size of White Castle's regular sliders.

1923 — The Walt Disney Company
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1923 — The Walt Disney Company

It's simply Disney to most people, and creating worlds that are better than any reality is its mission. Pretty much everyone knows Disneyland, Disney World, and Mickey Mouse, but the empire also created movies, TV shows (“The Mickey Mouse Club”) and numerous animated characters. And though the movies and TV shows are beloved by many children, the company has made its mark with resorts, hotels, and restaurants.

1934 — DC Comics and 1939 — Marvel Comics
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1934 — DC Comics and 1939 — Marvel Comics

Media and entertainment company Marvel Comics and comic book publisher DC Comics have played significant roles for more than 80 years in examining the ails of society. Both created in-depth and often flawed comic book and film characters from many eras who took on bigotry, racism, corruption and other forms of inequality.

Original Woodstock Exit Sign
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1937 — Volkswagen

The VW Beetle was the little car that could — and did. Despite its Nazism baggage and initial slow sales in the U.S., the cheap and nonconformist Bug with its engine in the rear rose to icon status in the 1960s and '70s, becoming the biggest-selling foreign-made car in America. This was likely attributable to the fact that the free-spirited hippie counterculture claimed the Beetle as a status symbol, and that consumers began preferring smaller, more affordable cars.

1942 — Johnson Publishing Company
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1942 — Johnson Publishing Company

Few know about the myriad successes and accomplishments of African Americans. However, Johnson Publishing Company sought to change that. The black-owned company is celebrated for chronicling the experiences of African Americans in the pages of its two magazines — Ebony and Jet.

1955 – McDonald’s
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1955 – McDonald’s

What began as two brothers’ hotdog stand has evolved into a fast-food empire valued at over $110 billion with more than 36,000 locations in over 100 countries. Many love McNuggets, hamburgers, shakes, and fries. However, documentaries such as “Super Size Me,” which tracked the health troubles of its filmmaker after he ate only McDonald’s meals for a month, don’t help the company’s image.

1962 – Walmart
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1962 – Walmart

With more than 11,000 stores in 27 countries, Walmart is the biggest private employer and largest retailer in the world. In 2019, the company made $514 billion in income. Its alleged aim is to help people save money and live better lives, but the company's low prices are attributed to bargain-basement overseas products and low pay for employees.

1964 — Nike
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1964 — Nike

You'll never be able to tell Nike to stay in its lane because it’s in so many of them. The sportswear company has a shoe for literally every scene and has linked exercise, hip hop, and streetwear. In 1977, Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman's book "Jogging" made running mainstream. In the 1980s, Michael Jordan endorsed the brand. In 2002, Nelly's "Air Force Ones" (named for the Air Force One shoe) landed at No. 3 on Billboard charts. Most recently, after the death of Kobe Bryant, Nike honored him with a new sneaker.

1965 – Gold's Gym
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1965 – Gold's Gym

Gold's Gym is seen globally as the authority in bodybuilding and has propelled fitness into a multibillion-dollar industry. With the help of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gold's shaped views about the ideal physique and the value of a healthy lifestyle, giving rise to the popularity of gyms, wellness centers, and health clubs around the world.

1971 — Starbucks
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1971 — Starbucks

Though it’s hard to remember how Americans drank coffee before Starbucks, many tapped canned commercial blends or went to local shops for a cup. Today, Starbucks has made espresso and customizable coffee drinks commonplace in America and was pivotal in jump-starting the coffee snobbery that came with it. Though no one suspected that a drink that cost 5 cents in a diner would someday be $5 and up, the price hike hasn’t turned off fans. Today Starbucks is the biggest coffee chain in the world with 31,256 stores as of 2019 and sells about 4 billion cups a year.

1976 – Apple
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1976 – Apple

Though Apple has been around since the late 1970s, its impact on culture really didn't happen until the 2000s, with the introduction of the iPod, iPad and iPhone. And though some of those products may not have been revolutionary because of previous iterations of phones and MP3 players, Apple's marketing ignited a wide-reaching spark at rebranding them and other tech.

1976 — Costco
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1976 — Costco

With a laser-beam focus on offering good quality, low-price products, Costco has become the world’s most successful membership-only warehouse club. Its unique strategy is to keep shopping one stop and simple: no heavy sales job and no frills, just a warehouse full of goods for every niche, from basic groceries, to home goods and furniture. You can even buy coffins.

1977 — Victoria’s Secret
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1977 — Victoria’s Secret

In the late 1970s, Victoria’s Secret set the standard for beauty and fashion with its statuesque Bond-girl type models adorned in frilly bras and elegant panties. Despite longtime complaints that its marketing is over-sexualized, Victoria's Secret expanded into malls and hyped its annual fashion show. But consumers now are pushing for more comfort and diversity, and competing boutiques are showcasing bodies of various sizes and skin shades.

1987 — Gilead Sciences
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1987 — Gilead Sciences

Helping people live longer, healthier lives has put California-based Gilead Sciences at the forefront in fighting some of the world’s most vicious diseases — AIDS, cancer, hepatitis, and the flu. Since the mid-1990s, the biotechnology company has made medicines for more than 11 million people across the globe. Also, it is the maker of the only two FDA-approved pills for PrEP, which is 99% effective in preventing HIV infection. As of late February, the drugmaker was expanding clinical trials of a medication to combat coronavirus.

1990 — Keurig
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1990 — Keurig

The coolest thing about your Keurig is the instant gratification: No time and effort are required to operate it. And the company, Keurig Green Mountain, still benefits from your convenience — it generated $4.1 million in sales in 2017. Single-serve coffee systems surfaced in the 1990s and became a hit thanks to companies such as Nespresso, but Green Mountain’s purchase of Keurig in 1997 really pushed the system to the top in the U.S. The K-Cup, unfortunately, was an environmental nightmare. Even John Sylvan, who created the Keurig in the 1990s, said, “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it.”

1992 — Planet Fitness
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1992 — Planet Fitness

Move over Equinox and Crunch, Planet Fitness is muscling in on your territory. With more than 1,800 locations worldwide, the strategy of "The Judgement Free Zone" is to attract the casual gym goer, or those simply looking to jump on a treadmill or get in an occasional lift. Planet Fitness is a cheaper option (starting monthly dues are $10) and a haven for those intimidated or annoyed by the typical gym bunny and gym rat.

1994 — Amazon
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1994 — Amazon

Convenience and ease are two words that may immediately come to mind when thinking about how Amazon revolutionized online shopping. Other creations include cloud computing, digital streaming, gaming, delivery service, and AI — basically, anything that makes life easier. But with its low-price model and nearly unlimited access to products at all price points (even weird stuff), other companies have fallen in its wake: Borders, Toys “R” Us, Sears, and many others.

1994 — Old Navy
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1994 — Old Navy

Consumers’ appetite for low-priced, fashionable clothing launched Old Navy to early success: The company hit $1 billion in sales after being open for only four years. And clearly, people like bargains; the company collected $7.9 billion in 2018. The success can be credited to the company’s wallet-friendly prices on clothes for kids and adults, something that bigger retailers (Macy’s, Nordstrom) can’t match.

1995 — Craigslist
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1995 — Craigslist

What began as an email list among friends in the San Francisco Bay Area has evolved today into a platform that receives billions of page views a month, offering users a place to buy, sell (everything from the fabulous to the simply odd) or connect via the internet. Unfortunately, the site’s free, easily-accessible classified ads have been a crippling gut punch to the newspaper industry, which has failed to recover.

1998 — Google
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1998 — Google

The multinational technology company Google has opened the doors to the world by making it easy to instantly access knowledge. Google has become a verb in common parlance, as in "to Google," and helps users track down useful data, such as health information, to apply for a loan, or look for work. Before this, people often spent hours in libraries. Life is made simpler, also, thanks to the handy tools Gmail, Google Maps and Earth, and Google Street View.

1998 — Netflix
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1998 — Netflix

When Netflix launched its site, the company was simply a rent-by-mail DVD service. Today, it is the world’s leading internet entertainment platform (and the inspiration for numerous competitors) and has more than 151 million paid subscribers in over 190 countries. Unfortunately, the company’s ability to offer so much content via streaming has caused many consumers to cut the cord, leaving cable companies in the lurch.

2003 — iTunes
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2003 — iTunes

In 2003, iTunes shifted the landscape for the makers of music and those who love it. Illegal downloading was crippled and consumers could purchase a song for a mere .99 cents, and for those on the go, iPods with earbuds were a must-have. iTunes eventually expanded its menu of offerings to include TV shows, games, books, and podcasts.

2003 — Tesla
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2003 — Tesla

To say that Tesla has had a major impact on the auto industry is an understatement. Thanks to the electric energy company’s driven ideas about clean energy and cars, its competitors have been forced to rethink how they build cars and the technology that’s in them. Still, other brands are playing catch-up, as Tesla’s Model 3 is the most popular electric vehicle by a substantial margin.

2004 — Facebook
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2004 — Facebook

It may be difficult to remember how we kept in touch before the advent of Facebook. The social media platform, which has more than 2.45 billion monthly users, allows us to peek into others' lives and share what's going on with us. For better or worse, the platform has transformed the way people connect: It's been blamed for crippling traditional communication methods, yet praised for helping businesses build a customer base; it keeps you up to date with its newsfeed, yet leaves some open to anti-social behaviors and bullying.