Though Henry Ford was attributed with the invention of the assembly line, Philip Danforth Armour employed a Model-T-like efficiency to the butchering of animals in his meatpacking enterprise. It was companies like Armour, in fact, that inspired Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Every part of the animals was sold, either as meat, glue, fertilizer, or, later, soap. Armour & Company had been making soap for years when, in the 1940s, it added a germicidal agent to its product, creating “Dial” — the first deodorant. Dial sold so well that the company changed its name to Armour-Dial and expanded its offerings on the soap side. By the mid 1980s, the company had sold off its meatpacking operations, but kept its canned meat products. By 1991, it had changed its name to the Dial Corporation. The canned meat side of the company lives on. Pinnacle Foods now owns Armour, which makes stews and soups, potted meat, hash and Vienna sausage.
The fall of Bethlehem Steel, which was formed in 1904 and dissolved in 2003, represented the crash of an American manufacturing icon. The company, headquartered in Bethlehem, Penn., supplied steel for railroad ties that helped build the country’s transportation networks. During both World Wars, Bethlehem Steel supplied armor plate for U.S. soldiers and battleships.
National Dairy Products
The National Dairy Products Corporation was incorporated in 1923, formed out of two of the largest dairy and ice cream manufacturers in the U.S.: Pittsburgh’s Reick-McJunkin Dairy Company and Chicago’s Hydrox Corporation. In 1926, the company operated in 13 states across America. Demand for its products soared during wartime years. In 1944, the company delivered 48 million quarts of milk, 8.5 million gallons of ice cream, and 101 million pounds of cheese to the United States government. In 1930, National Dairy Products Corporation bought Kraft-Phenix Cheese. The combined companies went through several name changes together. By 1969, Kraft’s brand strength ate National Dairy, and the company became known as Kraftco. Last year, Kraft split again, separating its international snack business from its U.S.-based grocery products division, including loud orange cheese-type foods such as Velveeta that harken back to the company’s dairy product origins.
International Harvester played a major role in changing the shape of American agriculture. The company was born out of a 1902 merger between Deering Harvester Company and McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. McCormick was founded by Cyrus McCormick, who invented the mechanical reaper, a horse-drawn device used to harvest crops, sparing workers the labor of reaping by hand. After the merger, International Harvester manufactured big trucks and tractors. But as the business developed, it focused on building machines in general and became less involved with the agricultural side of the business. In 1986, the company changed its name to Navistar International Corporation, still a Fortune 500 company today that produces trucks, defense vehicles and RVs.
Radio Corporation of America
General Electric created the Radio Corporation of America, and to General Electric it has returned. In the meantime, the company pretty much shaped the world’s consumption of media. It started in 1919, when GE bought the American assets of the British radio company Marconi and formed it into RCA. At the beginning, RCA was financed by GE (GE), AT&T (T), and Westinghouse. When RCA bought Marconi, they also got David Sarnoff, who would later run the company. Sarnoff came up with the idea that stringing together organized broadcasts could help radio receiver sales. In other words, he created the first network. RCA built the National Broadcasting Company, or NBC, originally for radio broadcasts. Sarnoff worked his magic on television, promoting the development of TV technology during the 30s and 40s. By that time, the Justice Department had separated AT&T, GE and Westinghouse from RCA via an antitrust lawsuit in 1932. RCA ballooned. During World War II, it conducted research that ultimately contributed to the development of satellite technology and the space program. In 1965, it bought Random House, a publishing giant, and in 1967, it got into the rental car business with its purchase of Hertz. Through the 70s and 80s, RCA shed many of its diverse assets, until 1986, when its creator GE bought the company, spinning off NBC as its own entity.
Not the most creatively named company in the Fortune 500, American Can was formed in 1901 by the merger of several canning plants around the country. The big canner was headquartered in New York, and was a major producer of tin cans as well as cartons, wraps and plastics for food, beverage and meatpacking companies. In 1957, two years after the first Fortune 500 list was published, American Can merged with paper cutlery-maker Dixie. In 1987, American Can merged with the National Can Company to become, again with the creative names, American National Can Company, which French company Pechiney then purchased a year later. At the time, American National Can Corp. was the world’s largest packaging company. That same year, other parts of the company were spun off to form financial services company Primerica (PRI).
Inventor Vincent Bendix got his start in the business world with his invention of the Bendix hand crank starter device for cars, then moved on to improve automobile breaking devices. By 1929, Bendix saw potential in the growing aviation industry and changed the name of his company to Bendix Aviation Corporation. One of the most important contributions to flight was Bendix’s pressure carburetor for aircraft engines — a device that ensures fuel delivery to a plane. Nearly all Allied aircraft during World War II were equipped with one. The company also sponsored the Bendix Transcontinental Air Race, a flight speed competition that Amelia Earhart entered in 1935. In 1982, Bendix merged with chemical, oil and gas company Allied Corporation. In 1999, Allied merged with Honeywell, and the two companies took on the Honeywell name. Under Honeywell (HON), the Bendix/King brand still makes devices for aircraft, including displays, flight controls and navigation equipment.