15 Companies That Originally Sold Something Completely Different From What Made Them Famous

tiffanys jewelry pearls
Before Tiffany & Co. was in the jewelry business, it originally sold stationery.

[credit provider=”Ali_ayers via Flickr” url=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/ali_ayers/4300910075/”]

Some companies find their niche and stick to it. Others, though, have to adapt to changing markets in order to thrive. Here’s a look at some companies that switched industries at some point in their histories, usually for the better.

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permalink=”avon-once-sold-books-1″
title=”Avon once sold books.”
content=”David H. McConnell started Avon in 1886 without really meaning to. McConnell sold books door-to-door, but to lure in female customers he offered little gifts of perfume. Before long, the perfume McConnell was giving away had become more popular than the books he was selling, so he shifted focus and founded the California Perfume Company, which later became Avon.”
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[slide
permalink=”nokia-once-sold-paper-2″
title=”Nokia once sold paper.”
content=”The telecom giant got its start in Finland in 1865, when Fredrik Idestam opened a pulp mill and started making paper on the banks of Tammerkoski. The company later bounced around a number of industries before getting serious about phones in the 1960s.”
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[slide
permalink=”3m-once-sold-minerals-3″
title=”3M once sold minerals.”
content=”When the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company’s founders opened their business in Two Harbors, Minnesota in 1902, they weren’t selling Post-It Notes. The partners originally planned to sell the mineral corundum, an important ingredient in building grinding wheels, directly to manufacturers.”
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[slide
permalink=”wrigley-once-sold-soap-4″
title=”Wrigley once sold soap.”
content=”Like Avon, the chewing gum company got its start with a popular freebie. William Wrigley, Jr. founded the company in 1891 with the goal of selling soap and baking powder. He offered chewing gum as an enticement to his customers, and eventually the customers didn’t care about the baking powder. They only wanted the gum.”
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[slide
permalink=”dupont-once-sold-gunpowder-5″
title=”DuPont once sold gunpowder.”
content=”E.I. du Pont started the company that eventually became one of the world’s largest chemical concerns in 1802 as a gunpowder business. Eventually the French immigrant expanded his business to include dynamite and other explosives before going into more diversified chemicals.”
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[slide
permalink=”tiffany-and-co-once-sold-letters-and-envelopes-6″
title=”Tiffany & Co. once sold letters and envelopes.”
content=”The jewelry and silverware hot bed was originally a stationer called Tiffany, Young, and Ellis when it started in 1837. In 1853 Tiffany switched its core business and began focusing on jewelry.”
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[slide
permalink=”coleco-once-sold-leather-goods-7″
title=”Coleco once sold leather goods.”
content=”The defunct electronics corporation actually began as a leather goods company in Connecticut in 1932. In the early days it was known as the Connecticut Leather Company, which was later shortened to “Coleco.” Oddly, fellow defunct computer marketer Tandy was also originally a leather goods company. It switched to electronics after acquiring RadioShack in 1963.”
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[slide
permalink=”raytheon-once-sold-refrigeration-equipment-8″
title=”Raytheon once sold refrigeration equipment.”
content=”The defence contractor started up in 1922 as the American Appliance Company, which worked on refrigeration technology. Eventually the company branched out into other areas of electronics and became Raytheon in 1925.”
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[slide
permalink=”colgate-once-made-candles-9″
title=”Colgate once made candles.”
content=”The hygienic products company got its start in 1806, but it didn’t make its first toothpaste until 1873. Founder William Colgate initially manufactured soap, candles, and starch.”
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[slide
permalink=”xerox-once-made-photo-paper-10″
title=”Xerox once made photo paper.”
content=”When Xerox got off the ground in 1906, it was as a maker of photographic paper and photography equipment called the Haloid Company. The company didn’t introduce what we would think of as a copier until the Xerox 914 made its debut in 1959.”
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[slide
permalink=”john-deere-was-once-a-blacksmith-11″
title=”John Deere was once a blacksmith.”
content=”The man behind the giant fleet of green tractors got his start as a blacksmith in Grand Detour, Illinois. After struggling to make plows that could cut through the area’s tough clay, Deere hit on the idea of building plows out of cast steel, and his blacksmith gig gave way to a booming farm-supply business.”
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[slide
permalink=”hasbro-once-sold-old-bits-of-carpet-12″
title=”Hasbro once sold old bits of carpet.”
content=”The company behind Transformers and G.I. Joes began in 1923 as Hassenfeld Brothers. The titular brothers didn’t make toys, though; they sold textile remnants. Their business gradually shifted into school supplies before making the leap to toys after the 1952 introduction of Mr. Potato Head.”
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[slide
permalink=”reading-entertainment-was-once-a-railroad-13″
title=”Reading Entertainment was once a railroad.”
content=”Remember the Reading Railroad from the last time you played Monopoly? The company still (sort of) exists! The Reading Company got out of the railroad business in 1976 but was reborn as Reading Entertainment, which operates movie theatres mainly in Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S.”
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[slide
permalink=”berkshire-hathaway-was-originally-a-textile-firm-14″
title=”Berkshire Hathaway was originally a textile firm.”
content=”The sprawling holding company helmed by Warren Buffett was originally a textile manufacturer that took off in 1839. Buffett took control in 1962, though, and by 1967 he started to move outside of textiles into insurance and other sectors.”
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[slide
permalink=”abercrombie-and-fitch-was-a-sports-shop-15″
title=”Abercrombie & Fitch was a sports shop.”
content=”When David Abercrombie founded the clothing store in 1892 in New York City, he wasn’t dreaming of clothing high school and college students everywhere. The store was originally a sporting goods shop and outfitter. Abercrombie even outfitted Charles Lindbergh for his famous flight across the Atlantic. The version Abercrombie & Fitch you see in your local mall started to come about after Limited Brands bought the company in 1988.”
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[slide
permalink=”more-from-mental-floss-16″
title=”More from Mental Floss…”
content=”6 Cases of Shamelessly False Advertising >
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