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When it comes to corporations, we all have a pretty short memory -- nobody even remembers that Hugo Boss made Nazi uniforms. And that's a good thing for the companies who make the things you use every day, because almost all of them have completely reinvented themselves at some point.

For instance, did you know ...

6
Monsanto Made Agent Orange for the U.S. Military

Wikipedia

The Company You Know

The $20 billion potentially evil genetic engineering conglomerate that probably supplied the seeds for several things you have eaten today.

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"DDT, part of a balanced breakfast!"

How It Got Started

The jungle-killing warfare chemical Agent Orange.

Concerned citizens from all over the political spectrum have long been wary of biotech firm Monsanto, the closest thing to an evil mad science organization that we have, and the one thing that conspiracy theorists might actually be right about. Monsanto mostly controls the corn supply of Earth, and has come under criticism for its genetic manipulation of nature so as to obtain corporate ownership of the actual concept of corn. But whatever evil Monsanto gets up to these days is just old habits dying hard.

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"We convinced our legal team to stop eating orphans, but not to stop hunting them for sport."

The officially sanctioned history of Monsanto clarifies that they only "share the name and history of a company that was founded in 1901," which is kind of like saying that the only things you share with the person who wore your trousers yesterday are the same name, memories and identity. The timeline begins with the company's invention of saccharine in 1901, then leaps bafflingly over the entire 20th century until the '90s, when they invented Frankencorn.

Obviously, despite what they'd like you to think, they didn't just save up their meager saccharine royalties until they owned most of the planet. During the 20th century, Monsanto was a herbicide manufacturer, and their most successful product is known to this day only by its code name, Agent Orange. Yes, that Agent Orange (not the one from Reservoir Dogs). During the Vietnam War, the U.S. government decided that the best way to drive Viet Cong militants out of their forest hiding spots was to kill all of the forests in Vietnam. To find out how, they asked Monsanto, who simply tented their fingers and hissed "leave it to us."

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"We do not tolerate failure."

To call Agent Orange a herbicide is of course to give it too little credit, as Monsanto achieved their goal of "killing all the plants" by inventing a chemical that would kill every life form that touched it or saw it or thought about it too hard.

Since then, Monsanto has been the target of endless lawsuits from families of the million-odd people who were killed or deformed by Agent Orange, but Monsanto's stock response has always been "We were forced to do it. Also, Agent Orange is harmless." Lately, this has been followed by "Buy our corn."

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5
NASCAR Was Started by Bootleggers

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The Company You Know

Coordinator of the largest gatherings of rednecks outside Civil War re-enactments. And something about car racing.

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"JUUUUUUUUUNIOR!"

How It Got Started

Bootlegging!

Like all good things in life (organized crime, the Kennedys, etc.), NASCAR has its roots in Prohibition. Following the horrors of World War I, the United States really needed a drink. At that exact moment, the government decided they couldn't have one and passed the 18th Amendment, banning the sale of alcohol. Organized crime decided to fill the demand by making their own booze, which was transported by the 1920s equivalent of Jason Statham -- recklessly ballsy men insecurely fastened to steel boxes powered by explosions.


"This is my co-driver, Leo. He makes sure I don't fall asleep from boredom."

When strapping themselves to coffins on wheels and running from the cops no longer proved thrilling (people got bored easily in those days), they decided to start racing each other, because if there's anything that could be added to the harrowing experience of barely controlling your fire-breathing demon steed as it rockets down the cheapest roads money could buy, it's doing that in close proximity to bystanders. One of the biggest races took place in Daytona Beach, and a perennial fan by the name of Bill France thought that other people would enjoy watching the mechanical carnage.

There were a few problems with early racing. The first was that races weren't really so much scheduled as coalesced when enough drivers happened to congregate in the same area. There were no consistent rules between the races, which we're sure led to some heated debates over the legality of banana peels and turtle shells.

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Fucking blue shells.

Bill France wanted to fix all that by uniting all the races under a single governing body for the enjoyment of the fans and the profit of the drivers. France gathered promoters and drivers together in a hotel bar and figured out the rules and regulations for his new sport, probably much in the same way that Delta Tau Chi chose pledges. Three months later, the first NASCAR race was held, and the rest is history.

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4
Silverware Maker Oneida Funded a Sex Cult

Oneida

The Company You Know

One of the world's largest silverware manufacturers. Your grandmother's good dinnerware that only gets used on Thanksgiving probably has Oneida silverware with it.

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"These are specially made for tossing salads!"

How It Got Started

A freaking sex colony.

In 1848, John Humphrey Noyes had a dream, one that many of us have to this day. Noyes' dream was for people to be able to bang whomever they wanted, consequence-free. But more importantly, he wanted them to bone in the name of Jesus. So Noyes formed a splinter faction of Christianity that believed that Jesus had already returned to Earth in 70 (not 1770 or 1670, just 70), and therefore his followers were able to bring about paradise on this mortal coil and achieve perfection by screwing the bejesus out of each other. He and his Humpayoo tribe decided to settle their den of divine inequity in Oneida, New York.


"Right here looks good!"

Even though our fantasy involves us being able to orgy it up all day without ever having to work, Noyes still lived in reality and needed a way to pay the bills. Since this was the 1800s, there were no university research grants they could take advantage of, so they set up a number of different businesses to help facilitate their extracurriculars. For a while, life was good. The businesses were thriving, the sex was plentiful and the people were happy, even though Noyes decreed that men were not permitted to ejaculate.

In 1879, Noyes was tipped off that the local police were coming to arrest him (turns out the older members had a thing for sexing underage girls), so Noyes fled to Canada, never to return. He eventually wrote to his followers and said they should go back to monogamy. Presumably after a massive "last hurrah" orgy, the community disbanded. A number of the members split off into monogamous pairs and decided to remain in Oneida. They sold off all the businesses except the most profitable one: silverware manufacturing. They incorporated their community and have been banging it out ever since.

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"Hell yeah we have."

Silverware, that is.

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3
Fanta Was Created Due to a World War II Coke Shortage

Fanta

The Company You Know

The makers of those vaguely fruity-tasting drinks with the creepy dancers.

marcus321.livejournal.com
"I'd love to Fanta, but I should probably get tested first."

How It Got Started

Hitler.

In 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and within a few days, the United States was at war with both Japan and Germany. This put a German man by the name of Max Keith in quite a bind. You see, Keith was the head of operations for Coca-Cola in Germany, and the bigwigs at Coca-Cola America decided it would reflect poorly on them to keep delivering refreshments to their now sworn enemies. Still, Keith was determined to keep the German population's thirst slaked, lest they be reduced to drinking tap water.

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"Nein! Ich trinkt urin, bevor ich wasser trinkt! Ferner ist mein Schwanz klein!"

This turned out to be trickier than anticipated. Without Coke's super-secret formula, Keith was growing desperate to deliver something to the public, so he did what all of us do in times of desperation -- he threw some shit together and hoped it worked. Specifically, the crap he picked up off the floor was whey (the liquid component of curdled milk), pomace (the crap left over after pressing fruit) and a shitload of fake sugar. Keith named it Fanta, an abbreviation of the German word for imagination.

While this unholy concoction of literal food garbage sounds like something you might haze a freshman with, the Germans loved it, especially toward the end of the war, when food was becoming scarce and it was discovered that Fanta made an excellent soup broth.

When the war ended, Coke stepped back in, and though they were impressed with Keith's ability to keep things running, they were undoubtedly horrified at what he had been selling and immediately discontinued Fanta, reasoning that it was inhumane to make people drink it, even if those people were Nazis. However, 10 years later, Pepsi began expanding their line of drinks, and Coca-Cola realized that it could no longer afford to be a one-trick pony. Recalling what Keith had done when he needed a new product as cheaply and quickly as possible, they revived Fanta (with slightly better ingredients), and it has enjoyed international popularity ever since.

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2
Zildjian Cymbals Were an Instrument of War

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The Company You Know

Even if you're not a musician, you know this brand. You've seen it in any rock music video where they give you a good view of the drum set:

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How It Got Started

An alchemical accident, and an intimidation tool for the Ottoman army.

Zildjian has been the go-to company for loud metal disks that you hit with things for almost 400 years, which makes them one of the longest continually operating companies on Earth.

Of course, when they first went into operation in Constantinople in the early 1600s, garage rock wasn't yet a thing. But the company's founder, Avedis Zildjian I, never really intended to make music. He had higher ambitions -- he was an alchemist, which means he was part of the impressively persistent (and futile by definition) 2,000-year search for the recipe for making gold. Alchemists figured that whoever could crack that secret would basically have infinite money.

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"OK, now for the ingredients. Man, science is easy."

Zildjian may not have understood much about chemistry, or basic economics, for that matter, but in the process of mixing tin, silver and copper together in different ratios, he eventually discovered that he'd created an alloy with miraculous bouncy properties. You know, just like in Flubber. After (we assume) attempting to market it as some kind of new and improved "supergold," Zildjian found another way to make money from it.

The Ottoman Empire had a long history of using loud noises to intimidate their enemies on the battlefield, and if there was one thing that Zildjian's alloy did well, it was make noise. So Zildjian began selling his "noisemakers" to the military. The mehteran, the branch of the army dedicated to trying to scare the shit out of people, gradually moved away from scary noise and toward musical noise, forming the origin of what we now know as the marching band, and providing a nice segue for the Zildjian company after enemies started training soldiers not to retreat at the sound of loud noises.

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"They're playing 'YYZ!' RETREAT!"

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1
Astroglide Sex Lube Was Made for the Space Shuttle

Tom Splasky

The Company You Know

The (in)famous makers of lube. For fuckin'.

How It Got Started

The space program.

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Your tax dollars at work!

As it happens, the name Astroglide wasn't just chosen because it sounds cool. In fact, looking at it now, it doesn't even make sense. The reason it has that name is because its creator, Daniel Wray, originally developed it as a coolant for the space shuttle. In 1977, Wray was working as a chemist for NASA, experimenting with nearly 300 different compounds, when he stumbled upon a fortuitous water-based glycerin mixture that, it turns out, is perfect for slathering all over your most precious orifices and bodily protrusions (we'll leave you to imagine how exactly he came to that conclusion).

The glycerin formula Wray came up with almost perfectly mimics the body's natural fluids. It has a slightly acidic pH balance, which means that it helps prevent yeast infections, it has low toxicity, it's safe to use on condoms and it has a slightly sweet taste to it for any ... uh ... body-hole-to-mouth maneuvers you may be inclined to try. Compare this to the petroleum-based lubes that were common at the time, which had a myriad of potential reactions and side effects, because apparently shoving jellified dinosaurs up your hoo-hah can have some negative consequences. Who knew?

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Like birthing a vaginasaur.

Even though the space shuttle thing ended up not working for Wray, he still managed to find a hugely profitable market for his product. While he undoubtedly laughed all the way to the bank, we have to imagine that no mother in the history of mothers has ever been more embarrassed than Wray's mom, who had to explain to friends and family that her baby boy had left his job as a rocket scientist to go make sex lube for butts and wieners and stuff.

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"He ... he joined al-Qaida. And died."


When he's not founding Christian sex communes, Chris writes for his website and tweets. You can email him at here. S Peter Davis writes for Three Minute Philosophy.

For more origin stories of famous brands, check out 6 Global Corporations Started by Their Founder's Shitty Luck. Or learn about 6 Companies That Are Clearly Catering to Supervillains.

If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 5 Creepy Ways People Can Make Money on Your Death.

And stop by LinkSTORM to discover which company made a fortune off of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man's death.

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