Taco Bell was a taco stand called Taco-Tia


Before there was deliciously questionable Taco Bell mystery meat available everywhere in the world, Glen Bell’s empire occupied only one street corner. He opened a taco stand called Taco-Tia in 1952. It was so popular that by 1962 he had to upgrade to a restaurant in Downey, California. From there, they blew up like one of their toilets, opening 100 new locations within just five years.


The inventor of Coca-Cola was a Civil War vet who died a broke drug addict


John Pemberton was wounded by a saber to the chest while fighting for the Confederacy in the US Civil War. His wounds left him with a debilitating morphine habit, so the experienced botanist and medicine maker set to work finding a cure for his addiction. He mixed coca leaves (the plant used for cocaine), wine, and kola nuts to create Pemberton’s French Wine Cola, essentially trading one addiction for two.

When prohibition hit his Georgia bottling plant in 1886, Pemberton replaced the alcohol content with a sugary, sweet syrup, and rebranded to Coca-Cola. He died of stomach cancer two years later, nearly penniless, leaving the company to his only son. The coca was eventually replaced with caffeine, and as prohibition expanded across the nation in the 1920s, bartenders began stocking it in mass quantities, turning Coca-Cola into a household name.


The Subway founder needed a loan from his friend, Peter


Subway Founder Fred DeLuca needed a loan to get his franchise off the ground. His friend Peter Buck gave him $1,000 on the condition his name got to be on the store, which opened in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1965. The store did so well that three years later, Pete’s name was dropped.


Two brothers borrowed $600 from their mom to found Pizza Hut


Brothers Dan and Frank Carney didn’t know a thing about making pizza. But that didn’t stop them from borrowing $600 from their mom to rent this building and start selling pies in the 1950s. Within a year, Pizza Hut had become a franchise.


McDonald’s origin story is a modern tragedy


The story of McDonald’s is a cautionary tale for trusting greedy businessmen. Richard and Maurice McDonald founded the original McDonald’s in 1940 in San Bernardino, California. In the 1950s, businessman Ray Kroc was fascinated by their assembly line-style burger production, as well as their use of only paper bags and wraps to serve their meals (most fast food joints still served food on ceramic plates).

Kroc expanded McDonald’s exponentially, but ran into conflict with the McDonald’s brothers when they refused to compromise on quality to cut costs. So, Kroc, contractually unable to make the final business decision in a building with the brothers’ name on it, instead bought the land under the restaurants. Now he could call the shots, and McDonald’s soon had frozen patties and powdered milkshakes. The McDonald brothers walked away with $1 million each and Croc went on to become worth $600 million when he died in 1984 (that’s $1.4 billion today, adjusting for inflation).


Before K-Mart there was Kresge’s


Sebastian Kresge bought a nickel and dime store in 1899 and gave it his name. By 1912, there were 85 Kresge’s. The company rebranded to K-Mart in 1977.


Harley-Davidson started out in a tool shed


William S. Harley was only 20-years-old when he and childhood friend Arthur Davidson started their iconic motorcycle company. In 1904, they used the tool shed in Harley’s backyard to set up shop.


The Google garage


In 1997, Larry Page and Sergey Bring were Ph.D. students at Stanford with an idea to create a better search engine. They started a little company called Google in their friend Susan Wojcicki’s garage. Wojcicki is now the CEO of YouTube. Moral of the story: always let your friends with a crazy idea borrow your garage.


J.C. Penney turned this store into an empire


James Cash Penney didn’t just have the name of a man who knows how to make a buck. He moved to Colorado and began working at this retail store in 1898. By 1907 he had expanded the store to several locations, so he bought it from the owners and gave it his own name.


Burger King was originally Insta-Burger King


A husband and wife founded Insta-Burger King in 1953 in Jacksonville, Florida. When they ran into financial problems in 1959, they sold it to James McLamore and David Egerton, who changed the name to Burger King and ran it until 1967 when they sold it to Pillsbury.


I’m thinkin’ R-B’s


Forrest and Leroy Raffel wanted to serve something different in an America quickly becoming consumed by fast food hamburgers. They settled on roast beef sandwiches, opening this Arby’s in 1964. The restaurant is named after the abbreviation for “Raffel Brothers.” R-B’s.


Dairy Queen revolutionized ice cream (or so they say)


John Fremont McCullough and his son Alex invented a softer and less dense ice cream, which they called soft serve, in 1938. (Though Tom Carvel says he is the original inventor, claiming he got the idea in 1934 when his ice cream truck got a flat tire and he had to sell his melting product).

The father-son duo convinced Sherb Noble (NOT the inventor of sherbet) to sell soft serve in his store, and after selling 1,600 servings in the first two hours, they decided to create a more permanent business relationship. The three of them opened the first Dairy Queen in 1940 in Joliet, Illinois. The building still stands today as an historical landmark.


Starbucks was a hipster hangout


When Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker learned how to roast coffee beans, they decided to go into business. They opened the first Starbucks in Seattle in 1971, and it quickly became a trendy hipster hangout.


Rockefeller’s black gold


In 1870, John D. Rockefeller united competing oil companies to create The Standard Oil Company, and by 1880, he had a 90% monopoly on the industry. He became the wealthiest man in modern history (accounting for inflation, he was richer than even Jeff Bezos is today). In 1911, citing the Sherman Antitrust Act, the feds ruled his empire illegal, and Standard Oil was broken up into over 30 entities, among them those that became Exxon, Amoco, Mobil and Chevron.


The factory that paved the way for Ford


Karl Benz invented the automobile in 1885, but Henry Ford is the one who put a steering wheel in the hands of everyone in America. He founded the Ford Motor Company and opened this factory in Highland Park, Michigan, in 1903. He had good sales, but his invention of the Model-T in 1908 is what really made them take off.


Micro Microsoft


Bill Gates founded Microsoft in 1972 when he was only 23 years old with his business partner Paul Allen. This photo shows the entire Microsoft staff in 1978.


Walmart was first called Walton’s


Sam Walton was working at another retail giant, J.C. Penney’s, when he decided to set off on his own. He bought a nickel and dime shop in Bentonville, Arkansas, in 1942 and changed the name to Walton’s. He had gone nationwide by 1962 when he changed the name to Walmart. The first Walton’s still stands today as the Walmart museum.


Wendy’s didn’t invent the square burger


Dave Thomas founded Wendy’s in 1969 with this store in Columbus, Ohio. He was inspired by another restaurant in his hometown that sold square burgers, and named the chain after his daughter, Melinda “Wendy” Thomas.


The way construction workers ate donuts inspired Dunkin’ Donuts


William Rosenberg founded Open Kettle in 1948 in Quincy, Massachusettes. But in 1950, when he strolled past a group of construction workers dunking his donuts in coffee, he changed the name to Dunkin’ Donuts. In late September 2018, the company announced they would soon be dropping the “Donuts” from their name to go by simply “Dunkin.’”


Amazon was an online bookstore Jeff Bezos built by himself


Jeff Bezos started Amazon by himself in 1994. He was online by 1995 and sold only books. But his revolutionary recommendation technology (“If you enjoyed reading ‘The Shining’, you may also like…”) allowed him to expand Amazon to selling music, and eventually the massive scale it is today.


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