10 Old Brands That Managed to Stay Modern

by Staff Writer

You might have more in common with your great-grandparents than that receding hairline or cleft chin; some of your favorite brands might have been used by your predecessors, even as early as the Civil War. And while your elders may not be transitioning into the digital age with ease (or at all), several of America's oldest brands have thrived through multiple technology changes. Here are 10 well known brands that appear a lot younger than they are.

  1. Jim Beam

    It's probably not surprising that alcohol is as in demand today as ever. But Jim Beam, the familiar brand of bourbon whiskey, has maintained success as one of the top sellers of whiskey since 1795 and is one of the oldest American liquor brands. Though it faced a little hiccup during Prohibition, it picked up where it left off after the big ban ended and now produces several variations of Jim Beam whiskey. Its recent marketing campaigns have brought the brand into the digital age, with a focus on music and sports by pairing with Kid Rock and ESPN, creating a series of webisodes for the latter. They are also now sponsoring a concert series featuring several well-known bands and musicians. This isn't the first time Jim Beam has focused on music, though. In the early '90s, they held a talent contest. The winning duo: Montgomery Gentry, a band that has since been nominated for Grammy Awards and played for millions of fans.

  2. Colgate

    Colgate started out making soaps in 1806 and has been making toothpaste since 1873. In fact, Colgate was the producer of the first toothpaste in a tube, creating the eternal debate between spouses over whether the tube should be squeezed from the bottom or middle. As a company, Colgate joined forces with Palmolive in 1928, but they maintained the popularity of Colgate Toothpaste. This may be due in part to Colgate's competition with Procter & Gamble's Crest Toothpaste starting in 1955, and the two are therefore pushed to be on the cutting edge of marketing. For example, both sponsored soap operas when TV was first gaining popularity, and they each are on top of the latest trends in oral care, such as whitening and gum care. Colgate, though, ingeniously repositioned its brand when dentists were recommending that people brush three times a day. Knowing that most people wouldn't follow that recommendation, Colgate Toothpaste promoted itself as "The toothpaste for people who can only brush twice a day," giving it an edge over competition that were presumably for the thrice-a-day brushers.

  3. Brooks Brothers

    Since Brooks Brothers first started in 1818, — which makes it the oldest clothing store in the U.S. — it has seen a lot of competitors rise and fall. Created as a men's clothing store in New York, Brooks Brothers now makes women's, boy's, and girl's clothes and has stores all over the world. In the mid-1900s, the company stayed modern by providing ready-to-wear, traditional suits during a time when men wore suits almost every day. Today the company has maintained its popularity by catering to executives, politicians, and movie stars. By creating an elite image, Brooks Brothers remains in the public eye, worn by actors on the big and small screen. Some of these include George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Will Smith. President Barack Obama even wore Brooks Brothers accessories at his inauguration, further cementing the company's place in modern American life.

  4. Tiffany & Co.

    When it comes to branding, Tiffany & Co. may be the best in the business. This famous jewelry store was started in 1837 by Charles Lewis Tiffany and has come to be known as one of the strongest brands in the world. The company helped refine some of the traditions that go along with engagement and marriage, which has enabled it to keep its hold on the hearts of the country, or at least the women's hearts. In 1886, before diamonds were the traditional choice for an engagement ring, Tiffany created the Tiffany Setting diamond engagement ring, one diamond in a six-prong setting, the first of its kind. It became an iconic ring that many women dream of receiving from their boyfriends, even today. The trademark Tiffany Blue also became a symbol of exclusivity; you can only get the robin's egg blue box with a purchase. Tie that in with the hit movie Breakfast at Tiffany's and the status of Audrey Hepburn as a timeless style icon, and Tiffany & Co. can't be shaken, even in a recession.

  5. Mott's

    Known today for their juices and apple sauce, Mott's began in 1842 making apple cider and vinegar, pressed by a horse-powered mill. The company gained popularity by showcasing its products at world fairs and national exhibitions. The Mott's brand has stayed on top of the latest technologies and led the country in innovating fruit products, claiming to have introduced the American palate to apple juice. The company has managed to stay modern by refocusing marketing on the concerns of the contemporary woman. In the 1960s, when women were very concerned with watching their figures, Mott's started producing low-calorie juices and adult foods. Today, Mott's is capitalizing on the market of moms looking for quick, healthy snack choices for their children.

  6. American Express

    The longevity of the American Express brand lies in its ability to find new demands when its old purposes have gone out of fashion. It certainly wouldn't be around today if it had stuck with its original business of express mail. Sure, that was an important service in 1850 when American Express first started, but the company would've died long ago without frequent repurposing. In the 1880s, it introduced its own money order service and started the first large-scale traveler's check system as an alternative to letters of credit, which kept the company relevant then but are of little use to individuals today. The charge card, which is what we mainly know American Express for now, was introduced in 1958 and quickly became an indispensable financial tool. The company has been ranked as one of the top 25 most valuable brands in the world.

  7. Jell-O

    The idea for Jell-O goes all the way back to 1845 when a man got a patent for a gelatin dessert, but it wasn't until 1897 that a different man, Pearle B. Wait, added fruit flavoring and called it Jell-O. When Wait sold the company to Orator Francis Woodward in 1899, Jell-O's business began to take off. Jell-O's advertising campaigns from that point forward have kept the brand fresh. They started with salesmen going door to door to give away samples of Jell-O to housewives and have employed countless celebrities (including Kewpie Dolls and Bill Cosby) and marketing angles over the years. In the early 1900s, Jell-O was even served on Ellis Island to welcome new immigrants to America. Considered a children's snack for many years now, Jell-O is currently repositioning itself as a treat for adults, too, with commercials aimed at parents.

  8. John Deere

    The well known tractor company started with a guy named John Deere (no surprise there) in 1837. Deere was a blacksmith-turned-farmer who made a steel plow to fit his needs and then began selling it. The demand for the steel plows was high from the start because of the tough Midwestern land, and John Deere has managed to stay at the top of the farm equipment industry. This is partly due to the strong brand created from the beginning, using the leaping dear logo that was born in 1876, and partly due to the company's diversification through the years. As early as 1870, John Deere had five product lines, and today they make equipment to fit the needs of the modern American — everything from lawn mowers to golf clubs to foresting equipment.

  9. Levi Strauss

    It's hard to believe that blue jeans have been around since 1873 considering how much we continue to wear them 140 years later. Levi Strauss & Co. patented the idea, though it was first used on denim overalls, and when the modern jeans were introduced, they were worn only by the working class of the Western U.S. But the magic of Levi Strauss is in the quality of the idea. The changes over the years to Levi's Jeans have been minor adaptations to tailor the product to fashion fads, but despite the variations in cut and wash, jeans are still jeans. And though Levi Strauss isn't the only producer of jeans now that the patent has long since expired, they maintain a loyal following and a brand based around their history and the fact that they invented blue jeans.

  10. Coca-Cola

    Coca-Cola was invented in 1886, more than 10 years before its main competitor, Pepsi. The original appeal of the soda is obvious, but once cocaine was removed, the brand carried Coca-Cola through to success. Even as they've added new products and new variations of the Coke recipe, Coca-Cola has stayed modern, strangely, by playing up their classic roots. The branding has emphasized its vintage history by using the same logo since the beginning, and there is always some advertisement in circulation with a wholesome Americana feel to it. Norman Rockwell-like illustrations have shown Santa enjoying Coke from the classic glass bottle and photos of typical Americans, from cowboys to New Yorkers, enjoying Coca-Cola to promote the brand as a true American company. On the flip side of its branding, Coca-Cola has capitalized on product placement opportunities, showing that it remains a staple in modern life.

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