4 Surprising Big Brands That Started With Nothing

As we all sit down to the familiar Thanksgiving table this year, it’s a good opportunity to reflect on our values as Americans and consider how much we’ve benefited from the spirit of American ingenuity.

Since our country was founded, we’ve grown, changed and discovered amazing things. And along the way, American businesses have prospered and grown, as well. Our history is a shared history of businesses and entrepreneurs that combined good ideas with hard work to create legacies that last through the years.

This year, let’s celebrate Thanksgiving by reflecting on four surprising big brands with very small roots: Dick’s Sporting Goods, Hertz Automotive, Whole Foods Market and Mattel.

dicks sporting goods

Dick’s Sporting Goods

In 1948, 18-year-old Richard Stack took a risk. He quit his job as a retail clerk at an Army surplus store to open a small fishing supply store with $300 from his grandma’s cookie jar. Over the years, Stack expanded his merchandise to include sporting equipment, eventually branding his company as Dick’s Sporting Goods. The company remains in the family to this day, after Richard passed on the leadership to his son Ed.

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Hertz Automotive

At the age of 22, Hertz Automotive founder Walter Jacobs started a car rental company with 12 Model-Ts and a small automotive shop in Chicago, Illinois. As consumer vehicles became more popular throughout the 1920s, Jacobs partnered with John D. Hertz to expand the company and continue their dedicated focus on helping customers rent automobiles. Together, they built a powerful brand that brought in $1 million annual revenue by 1925.

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Whole Foods Market

Whole Foods Market caters to selective shoppers now, but its roots are decidedly rags-to-riches. At 25, college dropout John Mackey and 21-year-old Rene Lawson Hardy borrowed money from family and friends to open a small food store in Austin, Texas, called “Saferway” (not to be confused with Safeway, founded in Idaho in 1915). The business didn’t do well at first, and Mackey and Hardy moved into the store instead of becoming homeless. The couple persevered, and years later merged with another natural foods store to open the first Whole Foods Market in 1980. The rest is history, with a chain of Whole Foods stores flourishing across the country.

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You may know Mattel for its iconic Barbie doll and Hot Wheels toys. But did you also know that this Fortune 500 company was founded by Harold “Matt” Matson and Elliot and Ruth Handler in 1945, after the second World War? The trio started the business selling picture frames out of the Handler’s garage, then switched to toys in 1947 to capitalize on the baby boom’s toyless market. The company introduced the “Uke-A-Doodle” in 1947 and the Barbie doll in 1959, catapulting it to success in the 1960s and beyond.

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