Companies come and go, but if they do it right, they create brands and memories that last in our imagination long past a buyout or a bankruptcy. Some brands are so big, they become part of pop culture, outliving their catchy jingles or trademarked uniforms. Here’s a look at five brands that still loom large in the American psyche but have all but disappeared.
Before smartphones and selfies, there was Life Magazine. Originally launched in the late 1880s as a weekly humor and general interest magazine, Life became the leading publication to bring photojournalism to the newstands. American publisher Henry Luce—who was then running Time magazine-- bought Life in 1936 and re-launched it as a picture-based magazine. The first issue under Luce’s leadership featured a cover photo of the Fort Peck Dam by Margaret Bourke-White. The magazine was wildly popular in its early years, but then, television happened. With a focus on picture content, the magazine lost audience and ad dollars to other media. Life stopped as a weekly publication in 1972. In 2004, however, it launched a short-lived comeback as a weekly publication as a supplement to U.S. newspapers. While that didn't quite work, the Life brand lives on with a small presence on Time.com.
Pan American Airlines
Known for its signature service and style, Pan American World Airways was founded in 1927. In its first year, it operated as an air mail carrier between Florida and Cuba, but started carrying passengers the next year between Key West and Havana. After a steady and sustained rise as the go-to airline for international travel, Pan Am began facing financial problems related to overexpansion and recession in the 1970s. Pan Am was unable to build a strong domestic system in addition to its lucrative international routes. As financial losses mounted, it gradually sold off assets like its landmark skyscraper in New York, Intercontinental Hotels and its Pacific routes. In December 1988, 270 people were killed when a terrorist bomb destroyed one of its 747 jets over Lockerbie, Scotland. Consumer confidence in the airline waned and financial troubles grew. The airline flew its last flight in December of 1991 after Delta Airlines (DAL) walked away from a possible deal to acquire the airline. It was the same year two other big airlines stop flying: Eastern Airlines and Midway Airlines. There were several attempts to relaunch the carrier as a small company but none were successful. The Pan Am brand today exists only in t-shirts, mug and the like branded with the airline’s logo. The brand recognition was so strong it even spurred a Pan Am TV series, though ABC (DIS) cancelled the show after one season. As for the company itself, Pan Am Systems bought what was left of the airline that year. It's still in charged of all licensing via the Pan Am Brands division.
Richard Levitz started Levitz Furniture in 1910, in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. His sons expanded the business by opening other locations, and by 1963, opened two warehouse showrooms. Levitz’s warehouse style showrooms—and catchy jingle—took off with customers and changed the furniture business. The Levitz family left business in the mid-1980s and the company went public. Poor management in the 1990s led the company to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It emerged from bankruptcy with a new corporate structure and, in the early 2000s, Levitz acquired furniture chains Seaman’s and Huffman Koos. But the subprime crisis and the recession took a toll on the furniture business. In 2001, Levitz furniture liquidated its assets; it closed all 76 of its stores nationwide in 2007.
As with all classic American car stories, the Oldsmobile brand started in Michigan when Ransome E. Olds launched the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing in 1897. Another American auto heavyweight, GM (GM), acquired Oldsmobile in 1908. More than 35 million Oldsmobiles were built. Its flagship model, the Cutlass, was introduced in 1961 and the car received several makeovers through the decades to keep pace with trends. In the 1970's, the 442 was a muscle car; the 1980's favorite was a wood paneled station wagon. Oldsmobile advertised itself as the everyman's luxury car, stressing quality, comfort and superior performance. Its ads featured tag lines like: "Every Olds has to make it before we mark it" and "The Escape Machines. Escape from the Ordinary." GM announced in 2000 it was phasing out Oldsmobile due to slowing sales. In April of 2004, the last Oldsmobile Alero came off the assembly line.
The concept was simple: Two chocolate chip cookies with vanilla ice cream in the middle, rolled in chocolate chips. But even that perfect idea for a dessert wasn't enough to keep the Chipwich brand alive. According to the New York Times, native Brooklynite, Richard LaMotta began selling his chocolate chip cookie sandwich on the streets of New York in 1982 for $1 each. It was an instant hit with New Yorkers and within months, LaMotta opened two plants which were turning out 200,000 Chipwichs a day. By 2002, LaMotta had about 3,700 vendors in 36 markets. He sold the company to Coolbrands International that year, and the brand was eventually bought by Nestle. Nestle stopped selling the Chipwich in 2007 because it competed with a similar ice cream product under its Toll House brand. Even discontinued, though, the Chipwich lives on as one of the most iconic desserts of all time.
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