Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Kombi

The ultimate in retro cool on the open road, the Beetle's big brother was originally built to meet the needs of frustrated delivery men.

Kombi

During a visit to the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg, Germany in 1947, the company's Dutch distributor, Ben Pon, noticed an unusual vehicle on the factory floor. Named a 'plattenwagen', it was a flat-bed truck utilising a Beetle chassis and running gear, which was custom-built to transport machinery around the massive factory. Pon was struck with an idea. Since the end of World War II the businessman had been inundated with requests from tradespeople for a sturdy, versatile and economical transporter for goods and people. He was confident he had just found the answer. Sitting down to lunch, the Dutchman drew a crude sketch on a napkin. The result was something Pon later described as a 'box on wheels'. Rudimentary as it was, he showed his design to Volkswagen engineers who believed they could build something to match the profile.

Wedding Ring

Braided from rushes, forged from iron or crafted from the finest gold, the symbol of unending love has evolved over many millennia.

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Finger rings first adorned the digits of ancient Egyptians almost 5000 years ago. A symbol of eternity and infinite life, rings and bracelets would be plaited from rushes and reeds growing beside the fertile Nile River – bringer of life and prosperity to the powerful state. As rings made from vegetation required frequent renewal, it became practical to use more robust materials such as leather, bone and ivory.

Corkscrew

If not for the ingenuity of hard-drinking gunsmiths, humankind may have become a race of frustrated teetotallers.

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Since 6000 BC humans have been drinking wine. Mediterranean wine lovers, such as the ancient Greeks and Romans, usually stoppered wine-filled animal skins and pottery jugs with workable cork. The plug was easily inserted and removed as it extended far enough above the rim to be firmly grasped, but it did nothing for the wine's use-by date.

Mr Men

When a little boy asked his father a curly question, Mr Men came to the rescue.

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While growing up in Yorkshire in the 1930s and '40s, laundryman's son Roger Hargreaves dreamed of being a cartoonist. Possessing artistic flair and a ready wit he was well suited to the occupation, but on moving to London following school he found employment as a copywriter. Hargreaves steadily climbed the ad ladder, eventually reaching the position of creative director for a large advertising agency. Sadly, somewhere along the way his boyhood dreams were misplaced amongst the pressures of career and the responsibilities of fathering his four young children.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Walkman

If not for the youthful thinking of two Japanese executives music may never have ventured out of the house.

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On June 22, 1979, a stream of journalists poured from a bus at the gates of Tokyo's Yoyogi Park. Each was handed a pair of headphones and a tiny, 390-gram tape player called a 'Walkman'. After pressing 'play' they were guided through the park watching energetic young people listening to the miniature stereo whilst playing sports, roller skating and cycling. Not only could the journalists see the Walkman in action, they could also hear first hand the sound quality of the petite, portable player.

Louis Vuitton

In the 19th century a penniless boy began a journey which culminated in the development of a company catering to the well-heeled traveller's every whim and desire.

Louis Vuitton

In 1835, unable to afford the stagecoach fare, a poor carpenter's son from the small town of Anchay in France decided to walk to Paris, a mere 400 kilometres away. Taking odd jobs en route to pay for food and lodging young Louis Vuitton arrived in the capital two years later. In the sumptuous and elegant world of 19th century Paris Vuitton found his niche as a luggage packer for rich Parisian families. As word spread of his superior talent in the field Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, appointed Vuitton to her court.

View-Master

A chance encounter between two amateur photographers led to the development of a device which offered popular culture a whole new view of the world.

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When Euclid explained his theory of binocular vision in 300 BC, little did he know it would spawn an international craze over 2,000 years later. The Greek mathematician believed perception of depth was created by the right eye viewing objects at a different angle to the left. This theory aided English inventor Sir Charles Wheatstone in his creation of the stereoscope in 1838.

Avon

Thirty-four years before American females won the right to vote, a door-to-door salesman from New York discovered exactly what women wanted.

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Born with the gift of the gab and an eye for the ladies, David McConnell had always possessed a passion for selling. In 1874 the savvy 16-year-old sold books door-to-door in upstate New York, but after ten years of limited success he took a different tack.

Empire State Building

The construction of the Eiffel Tower by the French was a symbolic slap across the face which the USA wasn't about to take lying down.

Empire state

Measuring an awe-inspiring 300 metres the Eiffel Tower took the title of the world's tallest structure when it was completed in 1889. Much more than steel and rivets, the Paris landmark symbolised power, modernity and technical talent. By the turn of the century the race was on to knock the French down a peg or two.

Swatch

Facing an invasion by cheaper Japanese brands, Swiss watchmakers carried out a timely rescue operation – codename Swatch.

Swatch

Although Swiss watchmakers had long been internationally admired for their industry-leading skills, they were caught seriously off guard when cheaper Japanese watches hit the marketplace in the 1970s. Relying on reputation as their sole marketing tool, the Swiss were unprepared to combat the aggressive advertising campaigns by companies such as Seiko, and by the late '70s the Swiss had lost most of their market share. The streamlined Japanese products were made using less components and, although not as reliable as their Swiss counterparts, were far more affordable.

Vegemite

In the late 20th century, as conflict raged over the design of a new Australian flag, many patriotic souls suggested sending the Vegemite logo up a pole. Not all of them were kidding.

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In every culture there are foods locals adore and outsiders find revolting. The French delight over a forkful of escargot, on Thanksgiving Day Americans devour candied yams, and even the most cultured Brit salivates at the thought of blood sausage. Australians have bottled their internationally-reviled obsession. It’s a thick, gooey, black substance, disturbingly similar in appearance to axle grease, and it sits proudly in eight out of every ten Australian pantries.

Hallmark Cards

Leave it to a guy named Joyce to develop a brand that tugs at the heartstrings of millions of consumers worldwide.

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Ancient Egyptians sent season's greetings on papyrus scrolls, and in the early 1400s Europeans were known to print new year's wishes from woodcuts and exchange Valentine's messages on handmade paper. But the modern greetings card containing a sickeningly sweet or fabulously funny message wasn't made popular until the early 1900s when young Joyce Clyde Hall, who never liked his girlie name and preferred to be known as J.C., founded the company which was to become Hallmark.

Easter Bunny

As they busily converted pagans, Christians also reformed the lustful, prolific hare into the sweet, cute and always generous Easter Bunny.

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As much as we may like to blame the rampant spread of chocolate Easter bunnies on the growth of capitalism and the birth of the supermarket during the 20th century, the floppy-eared, buck-toothed deliverer of colourfully wrapped chocolate eggs can actually be traced back to pre-Christian fertility lore.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Virgin

A child taught the value of independence and self-belief grew into an adult who taught the business world a thing or two when he developed one of the most powerful brands on Earth.

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Selling a business for hundreds of millions of dollars is as good a reason to celebrate as any but Richard Branson, known for his fearless optimism and toothy grin, instead wept as he gained his first taste of serious success. The brand which had launched his empire, Virgin Music, was being sold to EMI for £500 million, and for one of the world's most flamboyant entrepreneurs it meant the end of an amazing era and the beginning of a new set of challenges.

Asics

Who would have thought an octopus tentacle on a dinner plate could be responsible for the birth of a sports shoe empire whose gross annual profit is now well over $600 million?

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The year was 1949. Having served in the Transport Corps of the defeated Japanese army, 31-year-old Kihachiro Onitsuka decided to play his part in getting the country’s youth, still shell-shocked after their nation was decimated by atomic bombs,­ back on their feet.

Starbucks

Hearing a customer ordering a 'grande, wet, skinny, half-caff, caramel latte with legs' doesn't mean you're in a foreign country, it just means you're in Starbucks.
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Inspired by a shared love of coffee, three friends decided to kiss their careers goodbye in 1971 and open a store specialising in roasting and blending fine Arabica coffee. Seattle teachers Jerry Baldwin and Zev Siegel and writer Gordon Bowker pooled their finances and opened a business in the city's famous Pike Place Market.

Aussie Cossie

Despite great opposition from beachside mayors, councillors and morals crusaders, the Aussie cossie continued to shrink before their very eyes.

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It was not exactly a relaxing day out when, in 1907, the Mayor of Waverley, Alderman R.G. Watkins, visited the most famous beach in his municipality, and perhaps in the world. His trip to Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia, he reckoned, was ruined by the gratuitous and downright filthy flesh parade that he was unfortunate enough to witness.

Apple iPod

Hoping revive their fortunes, Apple leapt into the arena of digital devices and took a big bite out of the music industry.
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By the late 1990s, computer manufacturer Apple was struggling. With a market share of less than 10 per cent, management recognised the time for change had come. They knew consumers of the future would own a series of electronic devices tied into their home computer so began looking at the range of digital devices on the market.

Google

After a couple of bickering students rubbed each other up the wrong way a flame was sparked which lit a bright path through the dark portals of the world wide web.

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When Moscow-born Sergey Brin came together with Larry Page in 1995 it was a clash, rather than a meeting, of minds. Computer science graduates, Page had recently arrived at Stanford University to begin his PhD and Brin, also studying a PhD, was tasked with showing the newcomer around. They may have shared similar interests and pedigrees but the 24-year-olds simply didn't get along and are said to have argued with each other at every opportunity.

Matchbox Cars

Originally conceived as a way to dry his little girl's tears, an English engineer created a toy that put a smile on millions of children's faces around the globe.

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Although firm friends during their school days in Middlesex, England, Leslie Smith and Rodney Smith (unrelated) fell out of touch after graduation. By coincidence the two were reunited during World War II as they both served in the navy and, once discharged, 29-year-old Leslie and 30-year-old Rodney started their own company.