The Moving Stories Behind These Iconic Products

Every business has a story. Here are some of the best.

Behind every successful business there’s a story. It might be a tale of early mornings and late nights, or of moments of genius that went on to change an industry. It might be a story about huge risks paying off, or one about careful growth and patient investment.

Whatever the narrative, telling it — and telling it well — is one of the most vital ways that companies connect with their customers. Whether buying a coffee or a computer, knowing a company’s story builds an emotional connection that inspires loyalty and enthusiasm.

More than ever, customers choose where they shop and what they buy because of the story behind the product and the values it embodies. Indeed, a powerful story was what helped some of the most well-known products in the world get their foothold.

Here are just a few of the moving tales behind everyday things.

Instant Ramen founder Momofuku Ando 


Instant Ramen: A Rags to Riches Story

The inventor of the instant noodle wasn’t always a successful businessman. At the start of the 1950s, in fact, Momofuku Ando was facing bankruptcy and had endured a spell in prison for providing scholarships to students, which at the time was considered a form of tax evasion. Things couldn’t have been worse.

But Ando wasn’t about to give up. Angered by scenes of his fellow citizens queueing for food in post-war Japan, he sequestered himself in his garden shed. There, surrounded by chickens and gardening equipment, he spent months perfecting the recipe for the first-ever instant noodle.

Nowadays you can pick up a packet of instant ramen in almost any grocery store in the world. At the time, however, the concept was unheard of. Ando’s invention took the world by storm, and within just a few years he was a millionaire.

Despite all his success, Ando never forgot where it all began. To this day, a replica of his original humble garden shed stands in a museum in Yokohama, where it is visited by millions of tourists each year.

FedEx Founder Fred Smith through the Years
FedEx founder Frederick Smith

FedEx Gambled Everything — and Won

FedEx is now a household name synonymous with rapid, reliable package delivery. However, few people know that this iconic company almost disappeared in its first few years of operation.

Founder Frederick Smith started FedEx with a combination of loans and inheritance money. This capital was invested in a fleet of airplanes that would revolutionize package delivery — but only if they had enough fuel to fly. Rising oil prices brought the company dangerously close to bankruptcy just a few years after it began.

Knowing that FedEx would fold without an injection of fresh capital, Frederick took an extraordinary risk. He gathered up the last of the company funds, flew to Las Vegas, and spent it all playing blackjack. This is definitely not something we’d recommend as a sound growth strategy!

Amazingly, though, Frederick won big. After just a week of gambling, he’d made enough to sustain FedEx through the fuel crisis — at least until he could secure more stable investment from other sources. FedEx survived, thrived, and soon became the giant that it is today.

Portrait of Joseph B. Friedman, inventor of the flexible straw 

The Bendy Straw Was Inspired by a Child

Many great products have surprisingly humble beginnings. The bendy straw — nowadays so ubiquitous that few ever think about it having had an inventor — was one of these. It was developed in 1937, after Joseph B. Friedman saw his daughter struggling to drink from a tall milkshake glass.

All straws at the time were straight and couldn’t be bent without kinking. Joseph, a committed tinkerer, took it upon himself to improve on the design and patented the bendable straw a little later that year.

Since then, millions of bendable straws have been produced — so many that they’re now considered a generic product. Were it not for Joseph B. Friedman’s daughter, however, this small part of all our lives could have been quite different.

Sometimes, family and friends can truly be the most inspirational things in our lives.


The secret history of Monopoly: the capitalist board game's leftwing  origins | Life and style | The GuardianElizabeth Magie, inventor of the Landlord’s Game, now known as Monopoly, in 1936

Who Invented Monopoly? Secrets Revealed 

Whether you love it or hate it, just about everyone has gathered around to play the game of Monopoly. It took inventor Elizabeth J Magie many years and a great deal of tinkering to perfect the now-famous board game, but she never got the credit she deserved. Instead, Charles Darrow, who copied and tweaked Magie’s designs, was hailed for many years as the creator of Monopoly.

It wasn’t until very recently, in fact, that the record was set straight.  Building on the academic work of Ralph Anspach, author Mary Pilon finally made sure that Magie’s story was told in her 2015 book The Monopolists.

Although Elizabeth never got to see just how popular her invention became, at least now her place in history is assured. With her story now down in writing, future generations won’t mistake the incredible legacy of Elizabeth Magie.

7 Finger-lickin' Legends About Colonel Sanders and KFC | HowStuffWorks
KFC Founder Colonel Harland Sanders preparing a fresh batch of his signature fried chicken

KFC Was Rejected More Than 1,000 times

The worldwide fast food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken had humble beginnings, with just a single outlet at a roadside gas station. When the station was bypassed by a new road, Colonel Harland Sanders set out with a pressure cooker and his secret blend of 11 herbs and spices, to sell his recipe as a franchise.

It was a difficult task. While reports vary, most note that Sanders was rejected more often than he was accepted – with some recording that he was turned down over 1,000 times as he wandered the country appealing to restaurant owners.

In the end, though, his incredible persistence paid off. By the time he sold the company in 1964, there were more than 600 chains selling KFC chicken — a number that has grown to 6,000 today.


What's Your Story?

These stories defined the products that we know and love, and helped shape the world we live in today. The world of tomorrow is still emerging, along with thousands more stories of businesses, brands and ideas. Perhaps your story is among them?


If you want to tell the story of your business the right way, get in touch with StoryTerrace for an initial chat. We’ll help you craft a memoir that will connect with your customers.

And if you're not quite ready to tell your story yet? Sign up for our newsletter to be kept in the loop.


Written by Krishan Coupland
Image credits: by Japan Experience, The Commercial Appeal, Wikipedia, Anspach Archives, Google Images, How Stuff Works

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