9 Iconic American Brands That No Longer Exist

Thanks to changing economies, changing technologies, changing tastes, and a host of other factors, it can be a struggle for any company—even the most iconic ones—to stay afloat. Sadly, these once-thriving American businesses just couldn't keep up with the times and had to call it quits.

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Once a behemoth book retailer, Borders wasn’t able to adapt quickly enough to the technological changes of the 2000s. At a time when many readers were switching to e-books, Borders focused on growing its CD and DVD department. While the company kept building new stores, it lacked a strong digital and online plan, and even at one point outsourced online sales to Amazon. By September 2011, all of its stores were shut down.

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Pan American

Wikimedia Commons via Jon Proctor

Founded in 1927, Pan American World Airways once dominated the airline business, especially international travel. It revolutionized air travel with its regularly scheduled transatlantic and transpacific flights and its computerized global reservation system. Yet though it was an innovative leader, the company wasn’t able to weather the recession of the 1980s and the tragic 1988 bombing of Flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland. Despite having downsized and sold off some of its routes in an effort to save the company, the airline closed up shop in 1991 after Delta pulled out of a proposed financing plan. 

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F.W. Woolworth

Wikipedia Commons via Steve Morgan

For 117 years, F.W. Woolworth was one of America’s most iconic retail stores. The five-and-dime opened in 1879 in Utica, New York, and eventually grew into an empire that spanned 21 states and even reached to Canada, Great Britain, and Germany. In its later years, though, Woolworth’s struggled to stay relevant as shopping malls and other chain stores grew in popularity. In 1997, the company closed its doors for good.

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Toys R Us

Billions of dollars of debt and changing shopping habits spelled the end of Toys R Us. The popular toy store once served a lively niche market, but it struggled with increasing competition from discount stores like Target and Walmart as well as Amazon, and it was saddled with staggering debt from a leveraged buyout in 2005. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and was shuttered the following year. 

Related: 20 Towns That Used to Run America


Wikimedia Commons via Stu pendousmat

Today, practically any movie, television series, or video game can be streamed right from the comfort of your couch, but not so long ago Blockbuster was the place to go to rent new finds and old favorites. Over the years, however, video on demand, cheap, convenient Redbox rentals at grocery stores, and the rise of Netflix pushed Blockbuster into oblivion. Dish acquired the company in 2011, and by 2013 the last remaining corporate-owned stores had closed. As of this writing, there is still one franchised location holding on in Bend, Oregon.

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Tower Records

If you were looking for music by a certain artist or band, there was always a good chance you could find it at Tower Records. The mega music store, which was founded in Sacramento by Russell Solomon in 1960, was known for its extensive stock and well-informed clerks. The company expanded across the country and worldwide, but in the process it accumulated excessive debt. The rise of digital music and download sites like iTunes delivered the final blow, and the company filed for bankruptcy in 2006.

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Compared with other brands, Compaq was short-lived, lasting only from 1982 to 2002. But during that period it was a hugely popular computer company and a leading supplier of PCs throughout the 1990s. Hewlett-Packard acquired it in 2002 and continued to sell some systems under the Compaq name until it was discontinued in 2013.

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Oldsmobile, which died at the ripe old age of 106, was one of America’s oldest car brands. Ransom E. Olds founded his car company in 1897, and in 1901 the first Oldsmobile debuted: the Curved Dash Oldsmobile. General Motors acquired the brand in 1909 and targeted it toward middle-income Americans. For decades, Oldsmobile had a loyal following; the Oldsmobile Cutlass was the best-selling car in America in the 1980s. But the brand’s popularity eventually waned, and GM decided to end production of the line in 2000. In 2004 the final Oldsmobile—an Alero—came down the assembly line.

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Howard Johnson's Restaurants

Wikimedia Commons via Boston Public Library Tichnor Brothers collection

Famous for its orange roof, consistent menu, and reasonable prices, Howard Johnson’s restaurants were a pit-stop staple for families on road trips through much of the 20th century. Founder Howard Deering Johnson started the business as an ice cream stand outside Boston in 1925. At its peak in the 1970s, the company grew to more than 1,000 restaurant locations across the country and included more than 500 motor lodges, which Johnson began to operate in the 1950s. When the chain was sold to Marriott in the 1980s, the restaurants were shuttered. A single franchise location remained open until 2017.

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On the Brink: Sears

Sears was once America’s top-selling retailer, famous for its now-defunct catalog, but in recent years it has struggled to stay afloat. Sears Chairman Eddie Lampert is trying to save the corporation as its fate hangs in the balance. 

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