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"The little-known stories behind well-known inventions"

Here's a brief history lesson on some favorite trademarks          By Paul Niemann

[April 19, 2007]  This weekly column is usually about the little-known stories behind well-known inventions. Today we take a look at a few of the little-known stories behind some well-known trademarks.

A trademark identifies the brand name of a product or company. It is initially shown with a small ™ symbol and is later shown as ® once it's been registered with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.

Have a Coke and a smile

The most famous trademark in the world belongs to Coca-Cola®. Atlanta pharmacist and Civil War veteran John Pinkerton invented the soft drink in 1886, but his friend and bookkeeper, F.M. Robinson, gave the drink its name and designed the Coca-Cola logo. Coca-Cola took its name from the fact that it originally contained cocaine extracts as well as caffeine from the kola nut.

Coke made a big mistake by introducing New Coke in 1985, but they made an even bigger mistake in the early 1900s when they turned down an opportunity to purchase the Pepsi brand. You can't really blame the people at Coke, though, because there were a large number of small cola companies back then, and there was no way to know that Pepsi would someday become its biggest competitor.

Get your kicks on Route 66

The employees of most companies can tell you the story of how their company got its name, but most of the employees of Phillips 66® cannot.

The story behind the Phillips 66 name has many possible explanations. According to the book "Famous American Trademarks," these explanations include:

  • "Frank Phillips was 66 years old when he started the company." He was actually 44 at the time.

  • "The 66 referred to the octane level of the gasoline." The truth is that octane ratings weren't adopted until five years later.

  • "The company basketball team won by 66 points the night before the name was chosen." The actual margin of victory was 18 points.

  • "The first Phillips station sold 6,600 gallons of gas the first day." Nice try, but it sold 12,000 gallons. Besides, wouldn't the company have decided on a name before it opened for business?

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So how did the company get its name?

The idea to use 66 in the name had been suggested earlier, but it was rejected. It made sense, given the company's close proximity to Route 66 and the fact that their "fuel gravity" was close to 66.

Eventually, a Phillips employee was testing the new fuel when he remarked, "This car goes like 60 (miles per hour)."

The driver replied, "Sixty, nothing. We're doing 66."

Where did this happen?

Near Tulsa, on Route 66. Of course!

Overnight success

Federal Express® founder Fred Smith was a student at Yale in 1965 when he submitted a term paper for his economics class for his idea of an overnight delivery service. He was a member of the highly secret and highly selective Skull and Bones Club, the same club that included President George W. Bush.

FedEx, which now delivers more than $20 billion in annual sales, is the premier next-day package delivery company in the world. Like Coca-Cola, its trademark is so well-known that it has become a generic brand name.

As for its founder, Fred Smith, what grade did he receive on that term paper?

He got a C.

So even if your favorite brands include such little-known secrets as having cocaine extract in its original formula or having the origin of the company name remain unknown by its employees, or if its business plan received a grade of C, the brand could still do just fine.

Paul Niemann may be reached at

Copyright Paul Niemann 2007

[Text from file received from Paul Niemann]

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