The Unique Histories of 12 Common Products, Brands, and Items

Consumer Products with Fun Origin Stories
Scott Kalapos on Feb 17, 2023

We hope you're in the mood for some fun facts, because this article is full of them. Specifically, we're going to shed some light upon some of the lesser-known but very interesting backstories behind 12 common household and consumer products. From food to automobile accessories to clothing and most everything in between, we're providing some of the more rare insights into everyday items and how they came to be.

1. Big Mac

Anyone who has ever been to (or even heard of) a McDonald's is familiar with their flagship burger, the Big Mac. Its origin story isn't quite as widely known. In the early days of McDonald's, founder Ray Kroc wanted to keep the menu as simple and basic as possible. The goal of this was to keep costs down, keep the speed of service up, and to not overwhelm consumers with menu items they won't end up eating. This model worked well for a while, but a standard McDonald's hamburger or cheeseburger, weighing in at about one-tenth of a pound, wasn't enough to satisfy bigger appetites.

A Pennsylvania-based franchisee by the name of Jim Delligati ran a McDonald's location that was heavily patronized by workers in the steel industry. He wanted to craft a bigger burger to slay the hunger they worked up during a hard day's work. Delligati was impressed by the double decker sandwiches sold at nearby diners and wished to craft one of his own. At first, McDonald's corporate headquarters wouldn't allow him to do so. Eventually, an agreement was made whereby a new burger could be introduced, but only by using items McDonald's already offered.

Delligati chose to skirt this rule by way of ordering specialty buns that were split down the middle from a local bakery. Apart from this, he stuck to the rule, as the two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions were items the chain was already stocking. The famous special sauce is actually a mixture of mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish, and yellow mustard - not exactly a copy of Thousand Island dressing as is frequently alleged.

Patrons loved this new burger, which now needed a good name. Some suggested "The Aristocrat", while Kroc wanted to call it the "Blue Ribbon Burger". A young McDonald's advertising secretary by the name of Esther Rose suggested "Big Mac", and a legend was born. In 1968, a year after its conception, the Big Mac was available in all 50 states and soon became a cultural icon. In fact, the "Big Mac Index" is a tool of economic theory, used to tell how under or overvalued a currency is based on its relation to how much of it is needed to buy a Big Mac.

Big Mac

2. Aviator Sunglasses

A popular item for several decades, custom aviator sunglasses were conceived through some pretty extreme circumstances. By the 1920s, airplane engines were rapidly evolving and had become powerful enough to reach altitudes of over 30,000 feet. The air is much colder at such a height than it is on the ground, often reaching a frigid 80 degrees below zero. Because of this, pilots (primarily military at the time), needed to wear leather helmets and special insulated goggles in order to stop their eyes from instantly freezing over.

During one fateful flight over Mt Everest, a pilot had the misfortune of having his goggles fog up to the point that he could not see out of them. He had no choice but to remove them. He did this, and miraculously, was able to land the plane. Unfortunately, his eyes froze over and he needed to be assisted in the landing and then in getting off of the plane by his friend and fellow pilot John Macready.

Macready was haunted by what happened that day, but also inspired. He knew that even when the traditional goggles didn't fog up, their lack of tinting made them somewhat ineffective when the sun hit too hard. He began working with Bausch & Lomb to create specialized glasses that would cover the full eye area and then some. These sunglasses also had a special tinting to them to make them effective in even the brightest of conditions. They were a hit and soon were being used by nearly all military pilots during the Second World War as well as the Korean War.

By the late 1960s, Aviators had become popular among celebrities, leading to them being embraced by popular culture and society as a whole. They've been a hit ever since and are one of the most popular sunglass styles on the market to this day.

Aviator Sunglasses

3. Pajamas

Do you like to don a comfortable pair of pajamas before going to bed or when lounging around after a hard day of work? Believe it or not, they weren't a wardrobe staple for most of the world until the 1940s. Pajamas have been around for much longer than that though. They were first worn in countries such as India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. They typically consisted of large, baggy pants that were tied with a drawcord style belt and worn along with a large tunic. Early pajamas were worn as sleepwear, but also as casual day clothing.

In the Western world, most people favored a long nightshirt when retiring for sleep at night or when going about the house in early morning hours. They first started to appear in Europe when English colonists observed them in India and wanted to have the same thing when they got back home. After a short while, they were made with the drawstring pants and button-down shirts we see today. However, most people still preferred nightshirts.


What ended up propelling pajamas to popularity was the threat of nighttime bombings during World War II. A set of pajamas would be able to keep the wearer warmer and more modestly covered up when racing out of a building in the middle of the night. This became a powerful marketing angle and by the end of the war, pajamas were the king of sleepwear in Europe and in North America.

Though it's only recently became trendy for people to wear pajamas as a fashion statement outside of the home, designers have been toying with these garments for a quite a while. One particularly quirky result of this tinkering came in the form of pajamas specifically designed to be worn at the beach in the 1920s.

4. Piggy Banks

A piggy bank is something you'll find in most any child's bedroom. They're one of those things that have been around for so long that they're often taken for granted and not often thought about very deeply. However, promotional piggy banks for financial institutions and other businesses are a highly prominent and popular giveaway item.

Piggy banks came into being as the result of a misunderstanding of sorts. While storing one's money in a designated container is something that's been going on for centuries, a certain style had emerged in Europe during the Middle Ages. At this time, people were routinely storing money inside of clay jars that were made from an earthy orange colored material known as "pygg". This word predates "pig" in the English language, but as the language evolved, the latter became the more frequently used of the two homophones.

When people would approach potters and request a pygg bank, they frequently mistook their request as being for a money bank in the shape of a pig, rather than a reference to the material. Because of this, more and more people were finding themselves putting their savings inside of little clay pigs. In the early days, piggy banks didn't have removable plugs at the bottom. This meant that the only way to access their contents was to smash them. Some allege that this is where the phrase "breaking the bank" comes from, though others assert it's a term that originated in the world of gambling.

Jumbo Piggy Bank

5. T-Shirts

Wholesale t-shirts are a standby of the promotional apparel industry. Of course, t-shirts are one of the most widely popular garments in the world, so they're hardly limited to the promo products sector. Hard as it might be to imagine a world without these short sleeved shirts, they didn't really have much of a presence in the world until the early 1900s.

In 1904, the Cooper Underwear Company introduced a short sleeved shirt with a crewneck that was designed to be worn beneath button down shirts. Plugged as the "bachelor undershirt", these were marketed toward single men who weren't very adept at sewing busted buttons back onto their shirts. These items sold reasonably well, and had particularly caught on within the United States Navy. In one division, it was made a policy that sailors had to wear a short sleeved shirt, sans buttons, beneath their uniforms. Their use by naval sailors is where the term "crewneck" comes from.

Despite this fact, crewnecks actually made their first appearance in long underwear, as they were easy to stretch and return to form, making it easy to get the garment on and off.

4.5 oz Tri-Blend Moisture-Wicking Tee | Promotional Jerzees T-Shirts - Blue Heather

6. Fortune Cookies

Fortune cookies are a fun and tasty treat that many people find to be the perfect way to end a meal at a Chinese restaurant. Even though they're most closely associated with Chinese takeout, these desserts didn't get their start in China. They're actually a Japanese invention, though the style eaten in 19th century Japan was quite different from what's eaten today. This early incarnation was referred to as a fortune cracker. Fortune crackers had a similar shape and contained a paper fortune, but were more savory than sweet. They were also quite a bit darker in color.

The contemporary fortune cookie found its way into the world in the early 1900s. The unfortunate Chinese Exclusion Act saw many Chinese-owned businesses in the San Francisco area rapidly changing hands. Some of these were bought up by Japanese immigrants, many of whom opened up restaurants and bakeries. It was in these locations that the sweeter, more cookie like version with a vanilla and butter base was born.

A restaurant by the name of the Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park often is credited for coming up with this recipe. In reality, they outsourced their cookie needs to a local bakery called Benkyodo. Today, fortune cookies are found in nearly all Asian restaurants across the USA and are beloved by just about everyone.

Promotional Carry Out Box - 8 Fortune Cookies

7. Treadmills

Though some people might enjoy running on a treadmill as part of a brisk workout, others see it as torture. As it turns out, the inventors of the first treadmills agreed with the latter group. In fact, it was first invented as a punishment device that appeared almost exclusively in prisons. These first treadmills were called "Tread Wheels" and were designed quite a bit differently from contemporary models.

Early treadmills, or wheels, were typically made of wood or stone and had a shape similar to that of a paddle wheel on a boat, but were quite a bit wider. Prisoners were made to walk and run on the boards of the wheels, turning them so that they could pump water and mill grains. They were very large, often fitting as many as 25 prisoners at a time. Also employed in psychiatric hospitals, these machines were claimed to be a tool of rehabilitation. However, prisoners and patients were often forced to stay on them for up to 8 hours, resulting in serious mental and physical damage.

The tread wheel was eventually retired from its initial capacity, but came into the minds of innovative cardiologists. Heart disease became a more frequent problem as the 20th century wore on, so doctors wanted to find a way to prevent or at least spot it before it could become serious. Evaluating cardiac troubles and detecting existing conditions often requires patients to gradually elevate their heart rates. Physicians found that using an adjustable treadmill was a perfect way to achieve this. As health consciousness grew, commercially available treadmills in their modern form started to appear in homes as well as in gyms around the world.


8. Dentures

There was a time, not too long ago, when receiving a pair of dentures was almost a rite of passage for seniors. This is because until fairly recently, dental care, knowledge, and technology weren't available in great enough supply for most people to keep their natural teeth for a lifetime. Dentures may not be as common today as they were 30 years ago, but they're still a very important device that many people rely upon.

The first dentures appeared around 700 BC. Made by Etruscans (a civilization occupying what is now western Italy), these early models could include just about anything. Human teeth, animal teeth, and stones all found their way into equipment meant to replace lost teeth. However, it wasn't until the 1700s AD that dentures really started making their mark on the world.

Around this time, sugar was widely available, but good dental care was not. This resulted in most people having the unpleasant experience of their teeth eventually rotting and having to come out. Experts at the time produced dentures for materials such as ivory (not just from elephants, but also from walruses and hippos), porcelain, and even vulcanized rubber.

Gruesomely, "Waterloo dentures" were also a part of the scene. These were constructed from human teeth that were stolen from graves, yanked from the living, or sold by the poor in exchange for food. They received their name due to the fact that after the battle of Waterloo, the mouths of several dead were raided for the use of their teeth.

Fortunately, the days of Waterloo dentures are in the past. The dentures that are produced today are made from advanced plastics and resins. They're far more affordable, durable, comfortable, and aesthetically pleasing than the styles used in years past. It goes without saying that the current incarnation is far more civilized as well.


9. Cheerios

Cheerios is the top selling branded cereal worldwide. Along with corn flakes, they've pretty much become synonymous with the word "cereal". At 81 years old, Cheerios won't have been with us for a full century until the year 2041.

Originally called "Cheerioats", this cereal first hit shelves in 1941. The name was switched to Cheerios in 1945, as the Quaker Oats corporation claimed to have exclusive rights to using the word oat (and derivatives thereof) in marketing. The classic flavor hasn't changed much over the years, though as many as 26 varieties have existed over the years. The first new flavor, Cinnamon Nut Cheerios, debuted in 1976. It's more popular and famous successor, Honey Nut Cheerios, appeared three years later.

The existence of Cheerios was almost prevented by management at General Mills. A physicist by the name of Lester Borchardt was employed by the company and had begun tinkering with a gun into which balls of dough could be inserted and then shot out in an O shape. His bosses told him to cease doing this on company time and to focus on something that would make money. This stance is a bit more understandable when one considers that fact that in 1941, ready-to-eat  breakfast cereals were still mostly unheard of.

Despite the scolding, Borchardt persisted and within two months, his gun was perfected and Cheerios were in production shortly after.


10. Dr Pepper

Dr Pepper is a soda with a flavor that most consumers can't quite put a finger on. Perhaps that's due to the fact that it's made from a blend of a whopping 23 different flavors. This didn't happen by accident, as we'll now explain.

Dr Pepper is a soda with a flavor that most consumers can't quite put a finger on. Perhaps that's due to the fact that it's made from a blend of a whopping 23 different flavors. This didn't happen by accident, as we'll now explain.

Dr Pepper had its beginnings in a pharmacy in Waco, Texas, in 1885. This means that it beats out Coca-Cola by 1 year as being the oldest continuously sold and produced brand of soda. It was created inside of Morrison's Old Corner Drug Store by a pharmacist named Charles Alderton. Alderton loved the way the different syrups at the pharmacy's soda fountain smelled when their combined fruity odor filled the air.

Dr Pepper

Alderton began experimenting and documenting a broad assortment of syrup flavor mixes in order to produce the soda with a taste that would match the smell he so loved. He eventually achieved this, creating a drink that was highly endorsed by Mr. Morrison, the pharmacy's owner. While locals referred to the soda as a "Waco", Morrison chose to name it Dr Pepper. Contrary to popular belief, the story of how he picked this name is unknown. In the Dr Pepper Museum (opens in a new window) (yes, one actually exists), there are 12 different debunked accounts of the name's origins on display.

Nearly everyone who tried Dr Pepper loved it, and demand for the syrup soon overtook the pharmacy's supply. Morrison, along with a chemist named Robert Lazenly went into business producing the drink full-time, and this eventually led to the Dr Pepper empire that exists today.

11. Those Dots on Car Windshields

While you probably haven't spent much time thinking about them, we're sure you've noticed the small black dots that appear in the lower portion of automobile windshields. These dots, as well as the black borders below them, serve a very important purpose. In the early days of auto manufacturing, windows and windshields were held in place and reinforced with metal trim. As time went on, this practice was abandoned in favor of using a high strength adhesive. Though the adhesive worked very well, it wasn't particularly pleasing to the eye.

In order to cover the adhesive up, a layer of black ceramic paint was added to each windshield. This is still done today, with the paint being called the Frits. The dots that appear above it have several purposes, both practical and aesthetic. The glass that makes up a windshield needs to be heated at a very high temperature in order to create the right curvature. The part covered by the black paint heats up faster than the rest of the glass, so the dots were initially added to help with temperature control and distribution. It was also determined that they created a smoother and softer transition from a visual standpoint than would be observed with just the black outline and glass. This is why the dots are smaller and spaced further apart when rising away from the trim.

Car Windshield Dots

12. Chewing Gum

We're willing to wager you didn't know that chewing gum started out as an attempt to find a cheaper way of making tires. Well, at least this is true of chewing gum as we know it today. In the mid-1800s, chewing gum existed in the USA, but was made from resins from spruce trees that were formed into strips and coated in corn starch. This version of gum didn't taste particularly well and ran out of flavor in a hurry. This makeup was eventually scrapped for a recipe involving paraffin wax. The taste slightly improved, but the texture didn't see much of a benefit.

The current incarnation of gum came about as a result of the research of Thomas Adams, an American businessman who also served as a secretary for General Santa Ana of Mexico. By the late 19th century and early 20th century, rubber was becoming a product that saw high demand. The growth of demand for tires saw rubber tree populations dwindling and prices rising. In an attempt to find a more affordable alternative, the General advised Adams to try using chicle.

Chicle is a sap-like material sourced from the Sapodilla tree, a sort of tropical evergreen that is plentiful in Mexico. For centuries, locals had used it as an agent for cleaning their teeth, freshening up their breath, and even snacking. Its stretchy, pliable nature made it seem like a great candidate for making a rubber substitute. While this failed, Adams and his son, Thomas Jr, remembered the tales the General told of how much he enjoyed chewing chicle. The father and son team got to work on developing it as a new and improved chewing gum and before long, they'd found a taste, flavor, and consistency that was a hit.

Their first commercially sold gum was made in a licorice flavor and went by the name of Black Jack. This gum is still available today, along with other Adams creations such as Clove, Teaberry, and Beeman's. These are often found in retro candy stores, but still have quite a loyal following.

Seeing the popularity of the gums that the Adams team was producing, William Wrigley, a soap salesman from Chicago, started offering a few sticks of chewing gum as a premium with the products that he sold. The gum quickly become more popular and more frequently requested than his soap, so he decided to get into the gum game on a full time basis. Engaging in the most expensive advertising campaign to that date, Wrigley brought awareness and enjoyment of chewing gum to the masses, and it was soon a global sensation.

Chewing Gum

There you have it - 12 surprising histories behind some of the most commonly found and used products in the world. We hope you've had as much fun reading and learning from this article as we had writing it. Would you like to see a part two? If so, contact us and let us know!

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