Rare Photographs Show The Humble Beginnings Of Today’s Most Iconic Companies

Every new business hopes to become the next big thing. More often than not, these ventures fizzle out. But on occasion, they find more success than anyone ever imagined.

That’s why it’s important to remember that many of today’s most influential corporations started out as tiny food stands or a few desks shoved in a garage. With vision, hard work, and a little luck, these companies rose from their humble origins to change the world forever.

1. Mattel (Segundo, CA, 1965): One of Mattel’s biggest triumphs was Barbie. Though first conceived by Ruth Handler, it was Charlotte Johnson, pictured below, who designed the doll’s outfits. 

2. Microsoft (Albuquerque, NM, 1978): Now that’s a lot of hair! Childhood friends Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded this computer company in 1975. By 1987, Gates was a billionaire.

3. Disneyland (Anaheim, 1961): Since 1955, Disneyland has entertained over 700 million visitors. The park has changed over the years, but one thing remains the same: guests always leave with a smile! 

As a bonus, here’s Walt Disney riding the teacups! Did the man know something that we didn’t? Maybe the dizziness helped him come up with more ideas…

4. Taco Bell (Downey, CA, 1962): After years of selling hot dogs, Glen Bell opened his first taco stand. By 1978, he expanded to over 800 locations. This original restaurant avoided demolition after Taco Bell uprooted the entire building and drove it 45 miles to Irvine.

5. Google (Palo Alto, CA, 1999): If you’re curious about the early days of this company, you can always, well, google it. Starting out in a garage, the web trailblazers soon made the leap into Silicon Valley. Today, it has a massive campus in Mountain View.

6. United Airlines (1930): United partnered with Boeing to debut the first modern airliners. They also hired the first female flight attendants, all of whom were registered, nurses.

7. Arby’s (Youngstown, OH, 1964): The Raffel Brothers introduced roast beef sandwiches to the fast food landscape. They wanted a more sophisticated dining experience, but that didn’t stop them from putting a 40-foot sign out front.

Twitter / Arbys

8. Ford Motor Company (Highland Park, MI, 1910): Founder Henry Ford pioneered mass production and assembly lines to introduce the first affordable car — the Model T.

9. Walmart (Rogers, AR, 2006): The retail giant started out as Walton’s Five and Dime. The original 1945 store now serves as the official Walmart Museum.

Bobak HaEri / Wikimedia Commons

10. Starbucks (Seattle, WA, 1971): The first Starbucks was a simple shop in the Pike Place Market, but Howard Schultz took charge in the 1980s and made it a grande success.

11. Subway (Bridgeport, CT, 1965): Making sandwiches isn’t rocket science, but Subway was co-founded by a nuclear physicist. Dr. Peter Buck loaned his pupil Fred DeLuca $1,000 to open the first eatery. 

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12. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Los Angeles, CA, 1943): Louis B. Mayer founded the colossal film studio in 1924. Their iconic roaring lion footage was shot not long thereafter. 

13. Wendy’s (Columbus, OH, 1969): Dave Thomas named his burger chain after his daughter and forever changed fast food by introducing the drive-through window.

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14. Harley-Davidson (Milwaukee, WI, 1903): William Harley and the Davidson brothers first installed their motorcycle engines on bicycle frames. Their iconic choppers didn’t hit the market until the 1960s.

Harley-Davidson Motor Company Archives

15. Capitol Records (Los Angeles, CA, 1940s): There were no record labels on the West Coast, so singer-songwriter Johnny Mercer started his own. Capitol’s first office was in Wallich’s Music City before it moved to its iconic tower.

Alison Martino

16. Dairy Queen (Joliet, IL, 1940): J.F. ‘Grandpa’ McCullough and his son Bradley developed a delicious soft serve recipe in the 1930s. The dessert was so popular that it spawned countless franchises.

17. Whole Foods (Austin, TX, 1980): SaferWay, later renamed Whole Foods, was one of the country’s first natural grocery stores. But it wasn’t always so upscale — the founders lived in the original location and used its dishwasher as a shower! 

18. Virgin Records (London, UK, 1971): Before it grew into an international phenomenon, Richard Branson’s label was an eccentric record store. It took its name from the founders feeling like ‘complete virgins at business.’

19.  TGI Fridays (New York, NY, 1965): Though the restaurant now brands itself as a family restaurant, it actually began as a swanky cocktail bar. The company later decided to expand and focus more on salad bars.

Can you believe how far these iconic companies have come? Some of them are nearly unrecognizable.

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