Top 10 Once Iconic But Now Defunct American Brands
Starting a business and staying profitable is tough in a world of dog-eating dogs. You can build a better mousetrap and be king of the hill and an instant millionaire. But as soon as someone else builds one better or cheaper than yours, you can find yourself in bankruptcy court.
Some of America’s most iconic brands, the ones that seemed unstoppable in their heyday, are no longer with us.
The following is Newsmax’s list of the 10 most iconic brands that ultimately failed, in alphabetical order.
B. Dalton Bookseller (1966-2013)
This was slightly ahead of Borders Books, which had a slightly shorter lifespan and 517 locations compared to Dalton’s 798 at its peak.
Barnes & Noble eventually acquired Dalton’s in 1999, but despite being in business for over 100 years, was unable to turn the business around. At the time of its liquidation in 2013, B. Dalton had only 50 stores left. Death by Amazon?
Although in business for only 27 years, Blockbuster was one of those businesses that seemed to achieve iconic status overnight simply because you couldn’t walk through a city or neighborhood without finding a Blockbuster store.
Each location was identified by its distinctive logo, a torn, staggered blue theater ticket with the word “Blockbuster” printed in bright orange block letters.
They specialized in home entertainment, renting movies and video games to the public, and at first seemed to keep pace with technology.
They started by renting video tapes of popular movies. Then when laserdiscs arrived, which dramatically improved video and audio quality, they rented both laserdiscs and laserdisc players. When DVDs replaced LDs, they rented DVD movies.
But when video streaming services like Netflix came along, customers realized they no longer needed to take the time to walk to the store, make their choice, and then return it in time to avoid the penalty.
circuit city (1949-2009)
This started life as the Wards Company, and really took off when it was renamed Circuit City Stores in 1984 and became the first consumer electronics supermarket.
But, as Forbes reported, the company died due to a series of mismanagement. For example, “He built stores on low traffic sites. He stopped selling home appliances. He was slow to see trends in consumer electronics. His online presence wasn’t impressive. .”
Forbes concluded that Circuit City had been “battered by the recession, its own insensitivity, and the much more strategically gifted Best Buy”.
by Howard Johnson (1825-2017)
Howard Johnson started out as a single ice cream stand outside of Boston, Massachusetts, and then grew to more than 1,000 restaurants, each sporting a distinctive orange roof. They were located along major highways and highways, making them an ideal restaurant for travelers.
Howard Johnsons has earned a reputation for consistent quality at a reasonable price and has always maintained its roots by offering 28 flavors of ice cream.
In the 1950s, the restaurant chain added motels to nearly 300 of its locations.
The chain was sold to Marriott in the 1980s, but the restaurants were closed – all but one. The Lake George, NY restaurant closed in 2017.
There are plenty of American automakers that have folded, including Mercury, Plymouth, and Studebaker. But the one with the longest life was Oldsmobile, which died at the age of 106.
Ransom E. Olds founded the company in 1897 and in 1901 the Curved Dash Oldsmobile debuted – the first of the line. Knowing the good thing that Olds was, General Motors bought the marque in 1909 to add to its growing stable.
Oldsmobile enjoyed a loyal following for decades.
But Oldsmobile’s popularity eventually waned despite the introduction of new models like the Toronado, Intrigue and Alero, and GM voted to end production in 2000.
In 2004, the last Oldsmobile – an Alero – rolled off the assembly line.
Robert Hall Clothing (1937-1977)
Started in 1937 in Waterbury, Connecticut, its founder Jacob Schwab is said to have “ripped the name out of the air”.
It was known for its no-frills “big box” merchandising with simple tube holders displaying the clothes and offering free alterations. A boy’s first mid-20th century sports suit or coat was more than likely identified with the Robert Hall logo on the inside left pocket.
His downfall was his insistence on American-made, custom-made, reasonably priced clothing. Outlets like K-Mart quickly undermined them by offering “off the shelf” clothing made elsewhere.
Tower records (1960-2006)
This mega music channel was founded in 1960, around the start of the rock ‘n’ roll era in Sacramento by Russell Solomon.
If there was a song or artist you were interested in, chances are you could find it at Tower Records, where dozens of young Americans could be seen flipping through records.
And if you weren’t sure, their knowledgeable staff was there with a ready-made answer to your question.
His downfall was a heavy death suit brought on by the onslaught of the digital music age. Death by iTunes.
Tower Records relaunched in 2020 but as an online-only merchant. The sight of a crowd of teenage girls searching intensely for the perfect 45 is just a fading memory.
toys r us (1948-2019)
This iconic toy store chain has suffered much the same fate as many other brick-and-mortar retailers – an inability to compete with online retailers like Amazon, as well as discount retailers like Walmart and Target. But that only tells part of the story
The chain was also saddled with billions in debt following a leveraged buyout in 2005. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and was closed the following year. Toys R Us is trying to make a small comeback, but not as a standalone store. Macy’s has announced the opening of a Toys “R” Us department in select stores starting in the fall.
Trans World Airlines (1930-2001) (73)
Trans World Airlines (TWA) was founded in 1930 and really took off after legendary billionaire Howard Hughes took over eight years later. TWA and Pan American (Pan Am), founded three years earlier, were considered the true pioneers of the commercial airline industry – the standard by which all others were measured.
PanAm could not recover from the recession of the 1970s to 1980s and the terrorist bombing of Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, and ceased operations in 1991.
TWA was able to hold on for another decade and suffered its own severe disaster. TWA International Flight 800 exploded and crashed in 1996 shortly after takeoff from JFK Airport.
In 2001, TWA was acquired by American Airlines after filing for its third bankruptcy.
Woolworth’s (F.W. Woolworth Company) (1879-1997)
Woolworth was one of America’s first five hundred stores, having opened in 1879 in Utica, New York, calling itself “Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store”. Woolworth’s grew through most of the 20th century to become one of the most successful chain stores in the United States. What baby boomer hasn’t dined at Woolworth’s lunch counter at least once in their life?
Woolworth eventually spread to Canada, Britain and Germany and built the Woolworth Building in lower Manhattan, which was the tallest building in the world from 1913 to 1930.
In its later years, Woolworth’s struggled with the advent of shopping malls and as other flashier chain stores became more popular.
In 1997, it closed its doors for good.
Michael Dorstewitz is a retired lawyer and a frequent contributor to Newsmax. He is also a former United States Merchant Navy officer and an enthusiastic supporter of the Second Amendment. Read Dorstewitz reports – More here.
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