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The Most Famous American Brands In Foreign Hands (PHOTOS)

24/7 Wall St.     First Posted: 10/08/10 02:00 PM ET   Updated: 05/25/11 07:00 PM ET

By Michael B. Sauter, Charles B. Stockdale, Douglas A. McIntyre, 24/7 Wall St.: The most powerful brands in the world, based on name recognition and earnings, usually take decades to create. The most fertile period of brand creation in America lasted from the 1880s to 1920s. Ford, Marlboro, Coca-Cola, AT&T, Colgate, and JP Morgan are just a few of the world's most well-known brands that were launched during that period.

Many of America's most famous brands have been sold to foreign companies. Some corporations based overseas sought access to US markets and used acquisitions to accelerate the process. The purchase of the IBM ThinkPad brand by China-based Lenovo and the buyout of Firestone by Japan-based Bridgestone allowed each of the acquirers to obtain large revenues in the US . It would have otherwise taken the companies years to launch their own American brands.

Some of the attempts by foreign companies to move into the US market through acquisition have been failures. One of the largest recent catastrophes was the "merger" of Chrysler with German-based Daimler-Benz. Daimler management quickly took control of the new firm and hoped to use the Chrysler dealer network and Daimler engineering prowess to gain a larger share of what was then the world's largest car market. The plan was a spectacular failure. Chrysler was sold by Daimler to private equity interests and went bankrupt two years ago. Chrysler's management is now controlled by Italian car company Fiat.

Companies that buy famous brands take a fairly simple risk: can they trade on the good will that the brand has gained with consumers over time. Whether this works relies, to a large extent, on the amount the acquirer pays for the brand, as would be expected. The accounting profession has even fashioned a term used to describe the purchase of a company for much more than its hard assets and short-term cash flow. "Goodwill" is defined as what a buyer pays beyond "prudent" value, often in terms of reputation or brand equity - things which cannot be measured with perfect accuracy through a normal financial analysis.

The list below is the 24/7 Wall St. selection of fourteen iconic American brands which have been bought by foreign companies. Most of these transactions seem to have been successful, at least to the extent that all the brands still exist and have significant sales. The purchases acted as conduits to consumers that the buyers would probably not otherwise have had.

The history of these brands stands as a reminder that acquisitions can be successful. For that reason, the purchase of premium brands remains and will almost certainly remain a permanent part of the M&A landscape.

Below are America's most famous brands in foreign hands. For more articles like this one, be sure to check out 24/7 Wall St.

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  • Budweiser

    Invented in 1876, Budweiser has long called itself The Great American Lager. The legitimacy of this claim has come into question, however, since the beer’s St. Louis-based owner, Anheuser-Busch, sold the majority of its stock to the Belgian-Brazilian brewing company InBev. The brand is now technically owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev N.V., which is based in Leuven, Belgium. For more info, <a href="http://247wallst.com/" target="_hplink">check out 24/7 Wall Street.</a>

  • Alka-Seltzer

    Since it was created in 1931, Alka-Seltzer has been a popular American product, thanks to its general effectiveness, as well as its popular marketing campaigns like “Plop plop fizz fizz.. Oh what a relief it is!” It was founded and originally owned by Elkhart Indiana’s Dr. Miles Medical Company, later renamed Miles Laboratories. The company, along with Alka-Seltzer, was purchased by the German company Bayer AG, now Bayer Schering Pharma AG, in 1979. The purchase was used by Bayer to reestablish its presence in North American markets after the company’s U.S. assets had been seized after World War I. For more info, <a href="http://247wallst.com/" target="_hplink">check out 24/7 Wall Street.</a>

  • Hellmann's

    In 1905, German-born Richard Hellman opened a deli in New York City featuring his wife’s mayonnaise recipe. The mayo became so popular that Hellman closed down his eatery and started the mayonnaise brand. The company controlled the East Coast market by the time it was bought by Best Foods, a West-Coast-based company, which produced mayonnaise under its own brand name. While the company now sell the same recipe, according to its website: “To this day, Hellmann’s Mayonnaise is sold east of the Rockies and Best Foods Mayonnaise is sold west.” In 2000, Best Foods was purchased by Unilever. For more info, <a href="http://247wallst.com/" target="_hplink">check out 24/7 Wall Street.</a>

  • IBM's ThinkPad

    IBM’s ThinkPad has been one of the most successful laptop brands ever since 1992, when it was first marketed to the public. Various models of the ThinkPad have even been used by NASA for several space missions – one is used aboard the current International Space Station. Since 2005, however, the laptop has been manufactured and sold by Lenovo, after the company bought IBM’s PC division. The ThinkPad brand is still used on Lenovo PCs. Lenovo is the fourth largest personal computer vendor in the world, and the largest in China. More than 60 million ThinkPad models have been sold since the brand’s inception. For more info, <a href="http://247wallst.com/" target="_hplink">check out 24/7 Wall Street.</a>

  • Ben & Jerry's

    Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream started in a small gas station in Burlington, Vermont after its namesake founders completed a correspondence course in ice cream making. Since its founding 30 years ago, the brand has become one of the premium names associated with ice cream. The company became famous for its cleverly named flavors, creative flavor combinations and grass-roots messages of social change and counterculture. The company was quietly purchased in 2000 by British-Dutch Unilever. The brand giant claims that it continues the spirit of Ben & Jerry’s. For more info, <a href="http://247wallst.com/" target="_hplink">check out 24/7 Wall Street.</a>

  • 7-Eleven

    Founded in Dallas, Texas in 1928, the convenience chain was founded when an employee at the Southland Ice Company’s dock began selling bread, eggs and milk. The combined availability of perishable goods allowed the small operation to compete effectively with local grocery stores. The store quickly grew and became famous for its original operating hours, 7:00 AM to 11:00 PM. The 1987 stock market crash hit the American company hard, and in the early 90’s Japanese company Ito-Yokado became the majority shareholder of the company. In 2005, 7-Eleven became an official subsidiary of the newly formed Japanese company, Seven & I Holdings. In 2007, the company passed McDonald’s as the largest chain franchise in the world, with 38,000 stores. For more info, <a href="http://247wallst.com/" target="_hplink">check out 24/7 Wall Street.</a>

  • Popsicle

    The Popsicle brand started in 1923, when founder Frank Epperson began peddling the frozen juice on a wooden stick at an amusement park in Alameda, California. The frozen treat became an increasingly popular children’s snack. The company’s “Twin Popsicle” brand, which features two sticks, was created during the Great Depression so that children who could only afford a single treat could share. Today, the brand is an iconic summer treat. In 1989, the Popsicle brand was purchased by Good Humor, another former American company owned by Unilever. For more info, <a href="http://247wallst.com/" target="_hplink">check out 24/7 Wall Street.</a>

  • Women's Day

    Woman’s Day, first published in 1931 for A&P grocery stores, was a hugely popular, magazine for women. The publication defined the lifestyle of the American housewife as part of US-based Fawcett Publications, and reached a circulation of 6,500,000 in 1965. By 1988, however, the magazine had lost some of its appeal and became the property of Hachette Filipacchi Médias, S.A., which is the largest magazine publisher in the world and is based in France. The magazine reaches a readership of over 21 million and a circulation rate base of 3.8 million. For more info, <a href="http://247wallst.com/" target="_hplink">check out 24/7 Wall Street.</a>

  • Purina

    Founded in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1894 by William H. Danforth, Purina was originally an animal feed company. While Purina produced animal “chow” of all kinds, it developed into one of the leading pet food brands. Today, it produces a variety of successful brands of dog and cat food. In 2001, the company became part of Swiss brand giant, Nestle, which owned the only other major competing pet food at the time, Friskies. For more info, <a href="http://247wallst.com/" target="_hplink">check out 24/7 Wall Street.</a>

  • Gerber

    The most recognizable baby food name in America was founded in Fremont, Michigan in 1927. The owner of the Fremont Canning company began devoting a section of his plant to produce canned baby food after seeing his wife canning food for their child. The brand’s initial products included prunes and beef vegetable soup. The product became increasingly popular and grew nationwide. Between 1994 and 1996, several mergers led to Gerber eventually becoming part of Swiss pharmaceutical giant, Novartis. The brand has more than 80% of the American baby food market.

  • Vaseline

    The original and most famous brand of petroleum jelly was invented in 1872 by Robert Chesebrough. The chemist had noticed oil workers were smearing residual oil buildup of the rigs, on skin burns. After extracting and patenting the jelly as Vaseline, Chesebrough expanded his brand to become the top producer of petroleum jelly in the country. American medics used the product in World War II as an antiseptic, and Vaseline company expanded to include a variety of skincare products. In 1987, Vaseline’s parent company was purchased by British/Dutch conglomerate Unilever N.V. For more info, <a href="http://247wallst.com/" target="_hplink">check out 24/7 Wall Street.</a>

  • Lucky Strike

    Lucky Strike Cigarettes, founded in Richmond, Virgina in 1871, is one of the world’s most iconic cigarette brands. Between the 1920s and 1950s Lucky Strike and Camel vied for first place in the market. Since the 1970s, however, the brand has lost market share as has it passed through a number of corporate hands. Today the cigarette, which is much less popular than it once was, is owned and distributed by British American Tobacco, the world’s second largest tobacco company. For more info, <a href="http://247wallst.com/" target="_hplink">check out 24/7 Wall Street.</a>

  • Firestone

    Firestone tires, the flagship product of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, have had a rich history since their company’s 1900 founding in Akron, Ohio. They were used as the original tires for the Ford Motor Company’s Model T. The company was also called upon by the U.S. government during WWII to produce rubber military goods. In 1988, after a decade of extreme financial hardship, the company sold to the Japanese Bridgestone Corporation. For more info, <a href="http://247wallst.com/" target="_hplink">check out 24/7 Wall Street.</a>

  • Car And Driver Magazine

    Car and Driver was founded in New York City under the title Sports Cars Illustrated in 1955. It has since become the most popular car magazine in America. It has a circulation of more than 1.3 million and is based out of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Today, it is owned by the French Hachette Filipacchi Médias, S.A. For more info, <a href="http://247wallst.com/" target="_hplink">check out 24/7 Wall Street.</a>


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Filed by Nate C. Hindman  |