In our last post, Companies Started In Garages: Part 1, we visited four garages that were starting points for some of the world’s largest and most influential companies. Let’s finish our tour with four others.
It’s 1901, and William Harley has an idea. He wants to put an engine on his bicycle to make it go faster. Harley draws up a blueprint and enlists the help of friend Arthur Davidson. They spend two years tinkering in the 10’ by 15’ wooden shed behind the Davidson family home in Milwaukee. Finally, in 1903, the first Harley-Davidson motorcycle is built.
The initial cycle was designed to compete at the wooden velodromes where races were held in those days. Soon the young men developed an even more powerful motor with the assistance of someone who would later become a world-famous name in his own right: Ole Evinrude, inventor of the outboard motor.
Granted, a wooden shed isn’t a garage. However, keep in mind that in 1903 only the very wealthy owned what few automobiles existed. Most people got around on horses or bicycles. And by the time the young men were done, they had turned that shed into what we now consider a garage, i.e., an area where a motorized vehicle is stored.
Today, Harley-Davidson is the most well-known name in motorcycles, a company with a rich history. And its headquarters stand on the site of that wooden shed.
Put two Stanford University graduates together in a garage, and wondrous things happen. Sixty years before Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin began Google, Bill Hewlett and David Packard also started their venture in a Palo Alto garage.
Packard and his wife had rented the first floor of the home largely because it had a one-car garage in which he and fellow Stanford grad could experiment. In fact, Hewlett lived in the tiny shack adjacent to the garage. The pair named their fledgling company Hewlett-Packard after a coin toss eliminated the alternative Packard-Hewlett. And to keep themselves focused, they distilled their core beliefs into 11 guiding principles and posted them in the garage.
Hewlett and Packard toyed with different ideas using electrical currents before building an audio oscillator based on work Hewlett had done at Stanford. One of the first sales of their invention was to another man who had begun his ascent in a garage: Walt Disney. Disney suggested some changes to the original model, which resulted in a new version. Then Disney bought eight of the oscillators he eventually used to create the sound system for his classic movie Fantasia.
Now one of the largest companies in the world, Hewlett-Packard is still headquartered in Palo Alto. In 1989, California designated the garage “the birthplace of Silicon Valley” and made it a state historical landmark. In 2000, the company spent $1.7 million to purchase the original Packard home and garage. Seven years later, the property was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1945, Harold “Matt” Matson and Elliot Handler start a company along with Handler’s wife Ruth. They name it Mattel, combining the first syllables from each male’s name.
The trio initially makes picture frames in the Handler’s garage in southern California. Being resourceful, Elliot used the wood scraps to make dollhouse furniture. Matson soon sold his share of the business to the Handlers, who decided to forget the picture frames and concentrate on toys. Over the next decade, they develop various successful creations, including a toy ukulele called the Uka-a-doodle.
Ten years after its inception, Mattel crosses paths with – guess who? – Walt Disney. It purchases the rights to manufacture the products featured on the popular TV show “The Mickey Mouse Club.” This cross-marketing, the first of its kind, is now standard for toy companies.
At the close of the ‘50s, Ruth Handler created perhaps the most iconic toy ever: the Barbie doll. It and many other successes skyrocketed Mattel into becoming the highest-grossing toy company in the world.
Yankee Candle Company
As Christmas 1969 approached, 16-year-old Michael Kittredge needed a gift for his mother. Like many teenagers, he didn’t have any money, so he took some empty milk containers, metal bowl and used crayons to the family garage. Melting the candles, he added fragrances and shaped the molten residue into a candle. However, his mom never got it. Kitteredge instead sold the candle to a neighbor for $2, and an entrepreneur was born.
Still in high school, Kittredge began mass-producing the candles in the garage. The orders kept coming in. Four years later, the business had grown so large it was taking over the house. His parents firmly asked him to find another place of operation, which he did by moving it into an old mill.
Less than 20 years later, he sold 90 percent of his shares in his company – Yankee Candle Company – for $400 million. Today, it’s remains largest scented candle business in the world. How large? In September 2013, Jarden Corp. purchased it for $1.75 billion.
From motorcycles and motion pictures to search engines and scented candles, some of the world’s best and brightest business ideas have started in garages. So the next time you have one of those “A-ha!” moments, make your way out to your garage. You never know what might happen.