Many of the most successful businesses in the world started in the minds of an American entrepreneur. From restaurants to technology companies, Americans have been innovating and growing their businesses from the ground up for years.
Most of these companies are now recognizable around the world. Whether you’re looking to start the next big fast-food chain, or you’re a one-person operation for a brand new idea, these photos of iconic companies in their early days will inspire you to keep working hard. One photo shows the unrecognizable beginnings of a store that is now the 20th-largest retail company in the United States.
Taco Bell Was Always Living Mas
Photo credit: Imgur
Glen Bell founded a different tex-mex restaurant before creating Taco Bell. He opened a taco stand called Taco-Tia in 1952 that grew in popularity. By 1962, it was so popular that Bell sold his stands to open a new company, Taco Bell, in Downey, California in 1962.
Taco Bell grew so fast that within five years of its founding, it already had more than 100 additional restaurants.
Pete Gave His Friend A Loan To Start Subway
Photo credit: @yaho_hooray / Twitter
The Subway logo looks familiar, but who is Pete? Peter Buck loaned his friend Fred DeLuca $1,000 in 1965 to open up a sub shop, but he wanted his name on the store.
Fred obliged and created this first Subway in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1965. The shop did so well that Fred rebranded to just Subway in 1968.
This Hardly Looks Like A Harley Factory
Photo credit: @historylvrsclub / Twitter
It’s hard to believe this little shack was the first “factory” for Harley-Davidson motorcycles. William S. Harley was only 20 when and his childhood friend Arthur Davidson began to tinker with creating a motorcycle company. The two began manufacturing the motorcycles in 1904, in this tool shed in Davidson’s backyard.
I doubt any millennial will remember the original name of the department store coming up, but people born before 1977 might.
What Would We Do Without Google?
Photo credit: Reddit
Larry Page and Sergey Bring were Ph.D. students at Stanford when they had the idea to come up with a better search engine.
They trademarked the domain name in 1997 and began work in their friend Susan Wojcicki’s garage. By the way, she’s now the CEO of YouTube, so it pays to help out your friends. This photo is from their first office space in Silicon Valley.
J.C. Penney Bought Out The Owners Of The Store He Worked At
Photo credit: @jcpenney / Twitter
James Cash Penney may not have founded the retail store, but he was the one who turned it into the billion dollar company it is today. Penney moved to Colorado in 1898 and began working at this Golden Rule store.
Penney helped the owners open more stores until he finally bought out the owners in 1907. He changed the store name to J.C. Penney in 1913, and the rest is history.
Some Parents Will Still Remember Kresge’s
Photo credit: Imgur
Gen X-ers and Millennials won’t recognize the name “Kresge’s,” but any boomer will know that Kresge’s is the original Kmart. Sebastian Kresge bought an already-existing nickel and dime store in 1899. By 1912, there were more than 85 Kresge’s. They continued to grow until the stores rebranded to Kmart in 1977.
Any entrepreneur who feels down in the dumps will be recharged after seeing this photo of the early stages of the company now owned by the richest man in the world.
Two Franchisees Saved Burger King From Going Under
Photo credit: @CDCHistory / Twitter
Burger King was initially named “Insta-Burger King.” A husband and wife founded it in 1953 in Jacksonville, Florida. They did relatively well but ran into trouble in 1959. They sold the company to two of their franchisees, James McLamore and David Egerton.
They restructured the company, changed the name to what we know it as now, and successfully ran the company until 1967 when they sold it to Pillsbury.
One Of The Pizza Hut Founders Jumped Ship To Another Pizza Company
Photo credit: @markleggett / Twitter
Not every company starts out looking as pretty as that first Taco Bell. Dan and Frank Carney founded Pizza Hut in 1958. The two brothers borrowed $600 from their mom to rent out this building.
The two knew nothing about pizza making, but within a year the pizza shop was so successful they opened their first franchise. Apparently, their success wasn’t enough for Frank though, because he became a franchisee of Papa John’s pizza in 2001.
Jeff Bezos With The Biggest Glo Up Of The 2000s
Photo credit: Geekkake / Reddit
This photo of Jeff Bezos in the first Amazon office proves that hard work really pays off. Bezos began Amazon as a one-man-operation in 1994, and Amazon.com went online in 1995. Amazon was initially just for selling books, but I don’t think I need to explain how much of an impact Amazon has on us today.
Alexa, can you tell us how a Confederate soldier founded one of the largest beverage companies in the world?
The Dairy Queen Founder Actually Invented Their Delicious Soft-Serve
Photo credit: @channingposters / Twitter
Dairy Queen wouldn’t exist today if John Fremont McCullough and his son Alex hadn’t invented soft-serve ice cream in 1938. After perfecting the formula, they convinced Sherb Noble to sell their ice cream in his store. The trio sold 1,600 servings of soft-serve in the first two hours.
The three opened this first Dairy Queen in 1940 in Joliet, Illinois and the building still stands as a heritage landmark.
Starbucks Originated As The Ultimate Hipster Coffee Shop
Photo credit: @starbucksnews / Twitter
Nowadays, Starbucks is known for horrendously misspelling our names and racial bias training, but it had much more humble beginnings. This photo from the inside of their first store in Seattle, Washington shows that it was the original hipster hangout.
Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker became inspired to start the company in 1971 after learning how to roast coffee beans.
The Coca-Cola Recipe Has Been Kept Secret Since 1885
Photo credit: Imgur
Most people know about Coca-Cola’s not-so-humble origins as a replacement for morphine. John Pemberton invented the first version of the drink in 1885 as a Coca Wine. The drink changed from medical to a soft drink during prohibition in the United States. Their first bottling site was opened in 1899 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The brothers coming up got sick and tired of only seeing hamburger fast-food chains, so they tried something different.
The Original Wendy’s Restaurant Is Now A Catholic Foundation
Photo credit: @CraigyRadow / Twitter
This photo of the original Wendy’s location is as retro as it gets. Dave Thomas founded Wendy’s in 1969 when he opened this store in Columbus, Ohio. Thomas was inspired by another restaurant in his hometown that sold square burgers.
Thomas named the burger chain after his daughter, Melinda “Wendy” Thomas.
The Ford Motor Company Is As American As It Gets
Photo credit: @hotrodmagazine / Twitter
Ford didn’t invent the automobile or the assembly line, but they perfected it. Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903 and set up this factory in Highland Park, Michigan.
Ford pumped out early automobiles at good rates until 1908 when he introduced the mass-produced Model-T. Today, Ford is still family-run and is the fifth-largest automobile company in the world.
The Founders Of Arby’s Wanted To Create A Chain That Didn’t Sell Hamburgers
Photo credit: @Arbys / Twitter
Sick and tired of hamburgers, Forrest and Leroy Raffel had an idea for a fast-food chain that sold something different. The two founded Arby’s in 1964 and opened this location in Boardman, Ohio serving roast beef sandwiches. They got the name Arby’s by taking the first letter of “Raffel Brothers.” R-B’s!
Oil might sound like a Texan’s business, but American royalty was founded on the oil in good old Cleveland, Ohio.
Sam Walton Turned A Nickel And Dime Into The World’s Largest Revenue Company
Photo credit: @historylvrsclub / Twitter
Sam Walton began as an employee of another iconic company, J.C. Penney. Walton left and bought up some old department stores with the idea of selling more products, for a lower cost by buying bulk.
He opened this first store in Bentonville, Arkansas in 1942 and by 1962, he renamed the company “Walmart.” This store still stands today as the Walmart Museum.
Dunkin’ Donuts Was Originally Called Open Kettle
Photo credit: @dunkindonuts / Twitter
William Rosenberg founded Open Kettle in 1948 in Quincy, Massachusettes. He changed the name to the iconic DDs in 1950 thanks to seeing construction workers dunking their donuts into the coffees they bought.
BY 1963, DDs already had more than one hundred locations across America.
Standard Oil Is Part Of American Royalty
Photo credit: @BP_America / Twitter
If you’ve ever wondered how John D. Rockafeller became the wealthiest person in modern history, it’s because he founded an oil company. Rockafeller founded Standard Oil in 1870 in Cleveland, Ohio.
He was way ahead of his time. By 1880, Standard Oil held a monopoly in the United States and controlled more than 90% of the oil business in America.
Bill Gates Was Only 23 Years Old When He Co-Founded Microsoft
Photo credit: gregcron / Reddit
To all the 23-year-olds out there living at home, look what Bill Gates was doing. This early photo of the Microsoft staff from 1978 shows how a small team can go a long way in business.
Gates and his business partner Paul Allen shared a love of computers and founded Microsoft in 1972. Gates is now the second-richest person in the world, right behind Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.
We Would Never Forget About McDonald’s
Photo credit: Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images
Don’t worry, we would never forget about McDonald’s. The all-American burger chain revolutionized fast-food restaurants. Richard and Maurice McDonald founded the original restaurant in 1940.
Their flagship store in San Bernardino, California attracted businessman Ray Kroc. Kroc went on to buy the stores from the McDonald’s and turn the burger joint into the fast-food phenomenon it still is today.