The Twelve Most Tarnished Brands in Tech

By  |  Wednesday, December 30, 2009 at 3:07 am

Quick, what’s the most admired technology brand? Maybe you answered Apple. Or Google. Or maybe even Microsoft. I’m reasonably certain, however, that none of the brands you’re about to read about sprung to mind. They’re all damaged goods–severely damaged goods in most cases.

No brand is guaranteed eternal health. (The two most powerful tech trademarks of the mid-1980s were arguably Compaq and Lotus; both are still around, but in greatly diminished form.) The brands in this story haven’t just lost a little of their luster. Most were once among the most respected names in tech, but ran into financial hardship and got sold (often repeatedly) to new owners who were usually mostly interested in strip-mining whatever goodwill the brands retained with the American public.

If you ever loved any of the names in this article–and chances are that you once had a high opinion of at least a few of them–prepare to feel a tad glum.

12. Commodore

What it was: Jack Tramiel’s groundbreaking computer company. In the 1970s and 1980s, it released one of the first PCs (the PET 2001), the best-selling PC of all time (the Commodore 64), and (after Tramiel left) one of the best PCs ever (the Amiga). But post-Tramiel management eventually ran the company into the ground. It went belly-up in 1994.

What it became: Commdore’s golden age may have been a quarter century ago, but the name remains recognizable enough that multiple companies have acquired it with giddy visions of using it to launch new product lines. Germany’s ESCOM and the Netherlands’ Tulip both did so; both quickly gave up. Most recently, a company called Commodore Gaming revived the nameplate yet again for a line of high-end Windows desktops, but its current site is almost entirely devoted to old Commdore 64 games which are now playable on the Wii. Bottom line: The Commodore line of computers has now died at least four times.

And yes, I did consider giving Commodore’s still-extant Amiga brand its own slot on this list–but I’m too confused by its current status. Maybe you can explain it to me?

11. Heathkit

What it was: I’m too young to have ever built a Heathkit during their glory days, but I certainly remember wanting to put one together. There was a time when there was no better way to establish your geek cred than to assemble a Heathkit radio, TV, stereo system, or other piece of electronic gadgetry–and doing it yourself saved you money, too. (Among the company’s fans: Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, who assembled a hundred Heathkits, and the distinguished literary critic Hugh Kenner.)

When the personal computer revolution came along, Heathkit became a significant manufacturer of early PCs, too, leading to its 1979 purchase by Zenith. But increasingly sophisticated, miniaturized electronics made it tough to save money by assembling a kit rather than buying a ready-made item. In 1992, Heathkit stopped selling kits.

What it became: Heathkit, which like many of the companies in this story has gone through repeated changes in ownership, is still around. Its current name is Heathkit Educational Systems, and it sells training materials for the PC, telecommunications, and life sciences industries. The vestigial “kit” in its name serves as a reminder that it’s quite literally not the Heathkit it used to be.

10. Bell & Howell

What it was: Incorporated in 1907, Bell & Howell was a major manufacturer of imaging equipment (from Charlie Chaplin’s movie camera to the slide projector at your junior high) as well as microfilm products. This later business eventually led to it getting into the online services business. Even if you never bought any of its products, the name rang a bell, and suggested sturdy, reliable quality.

What it became: The information-services part of B&H is now a perfectly respectable company called ProQuest. And Kodak owns Böwe Bell & Howell, which makes scanners. But the once-great brand name has otherwise been turned over to a licensing company that lets third parties slap it on pretty much everything except for the products it was once associated with. You can buy “Bell + Howell” laptop bags, razors, and headphones, as well as a pseudo-hearing aid hawked on late-night TV and a pest-repellent device. It’s undignified, I tell you.

9. Westinghouse

What it was: With origins dating to 1886, Westinghouse was one of the greatest American conglomerates–Pepsi to General Electric’s Coke. Among its dizzying array of businesses: electrical equipment, nuclear power plant equipment, aircraft engines, air conditioning, elevators, refrigerators and other appliances, gas turbines, locomotives, and robots. In 1995, however, it bought CBS, changed its name to CBS Corporation, and began to sell off its non-broadcasting businesses.

What it became: Bits and pieces of Westinghouse still exist–if you need to build a nuclear plant, you might want to give it a call, and there are still White-Westinghouse appliances. But Westinghouse is now primarily a shell company that licenses its name out to other manufacturers who want a familiar-sounding nameplate for their products. You can buy Westinghouse TVs and monitors, doorbells, light bulbs, and photo frames. But there is no real “Westinghouse”–the once-mighty behemoth of American commerce is now just a logo for rent.

8. AltaVista

What it was: AltaVista was the first blockbuster search engine– a remarkable piece of technology that began as a Digital Equipment Corporation research project and became the Google of its era. In fact, when Google came along, the easiest way to explain it was to say that it was like AltaVista, only better.

What it became: When brands get sold, they usually get damaged in the process. AltaVista had five owners in five years: Digital (1995-1998), Compaq (1998-1999), CMGI (1999-2003), Overture (2003), and Yahoo (2003-present). It grew less relevant with each change of hands; if you weren’t aware it’s still with us today, I’m not surprised. But here it is.

The About AltaVista page boasts that it’s “a leading provider of search services and technology” and that it “continues to advance Internet search with new technologies and features designed to improve the search experience for consumers.” As far as I can tell, though, AltaVista results are slightly rehashed variants of what Yahoo gives you for the same queries. Using it is like visiting an old friend who’s been lobotomized.

7. AT&T

What it was: A telephone service company founded by the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, in 1875. It went on to become synonymous with phones and phone service in the United States–and was broken up into a long-distance company and separate “Baby Bell” local-service companies as the result of a 1982 agreement after it was sued under U.S. antitrust law.

What it became: AT&T is the current name of the former SBC, the telecommunications giant which ended up owning half of the Baby Bells. It adopted the brand when it acquired AT&T in 2005. I thought it was an odd name change at the time, since the name AT&T brings to mind associations of the telephone’s old, monopolistic, land-line past, not its high-speed wireless future. The name may be venerable, but it doesn’t evoke warm and fuzzy feelings: I can’t prove it, but my gut tells me that the company’s current subpar reputation–among iPhone owners, at least–is at least slightly crummier than it would have been if it had kept the SBC moniker.

But AT&T is also on this list–despite still being attached to one of the largest and most successful companies in America–because its current use underscores the completely ephemeral nature of branding in the telecommunications industry. “AT&T” may have been around as a name for 135 years, but it’s nothing more than three letters and an ampersand. That was proven when hundreds of AT&T Wireless stores expensively rebranded themselves as Cingular stores when Cingular bought AT&T’s wireless arm…and then expensively re-rebranded themselves as AT&T less than three years later.

Then there’s the San Francisco Giants’ ballpark. It’s sported three different names in the past six years: Pacific Bell Park, SBC Park, and now AT&T Park. One more merger, and it may end up as Verizon Park, Comcast Park, or Google Park.

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79 Comments For This Post

  1. Lazlow St. Pierre Says:

    Commodore.

    I used to own an Amiga 1200 that I loved and I also used to work for the Irish PC building firm that made Commodore Gaming PCs before we went into liquidation. I wonder if they simply abandoned high-end gaming PCs after that.

  2. ram Says:

    No one knows that is going on w the Amiga. Which is sad, because i still fire up my old Amiga 1000 when I’m feeling nostalgic for the good ol’ days.

    Wrt Polaroid, you should know about The Impossible Project…
    http://www.the-impossible-project.com/

  3. CityGuide Says:

    This article did make me a little nostalgic, and maybe melancholy. Of all these products, the only ones my family thought worthwhile was Polaroid. When I was a kid, my neighbor gave me a partly-assembled Heathkit amp and my dad warned me about accepting ‘garbage’. It took years for them to see how anyone could make a living sitting at a desk all day in front of a screen.

  4. Len Feldman Says:

    One brand that I would have included is Compaq. Once one of the biggest and most powerful computer companies, and the company that established the IBM-compatible PC business (not to mention the acquirer of Digital Equipment and Tandem, both legendary companies), the Compaq trademark is now used by HP to brand its cheapest and junkiest PCs.

  5. JeffZ Says:

    Don’t forget the AT&T Broadband debacle. This is when cable behemoth TCI and AT&T “merged” only to break up again when the cable assets were spun off to Comcast.

  6. PeterB Says:

    Harry, what about Broderbund? The place used to be a mecca for technologists and educators driven by a desire to make the computer an entertaining but also an educational tool. Then it went through various management changes and got passed around among various acquirers and has long since lost its way. Now, it seems to get by on upgrades of old titles that don’t seem all that new and improved.

  7. Wayne Winget Says:

    Sad about Heathkit. I built most of the early audio equipment, and later the color TV. I still have a Heathkit running in my house. It is a freezer alarm. My freezer sits in the garage and when the door is open it goes beep-beep, and if the temperature inside rises above 32 degrees it beeps continuously. I warned me this past summer that the timer on my freezer had gone south and had caused the defrost heater to quit functioning resulting in freeze up and loss of freezing ability.

  8. bunnyhero Says:

    i only know bell & howell from the the bell-&-howell-branded black apple II.

  9. Simon Says:

    Always love articles that this, but one glaring omission- Atari.

  10. John Davis Says:

    You forgot LG, or Lucky Goldstar.. Though I guess you could say “Tarnished” is not the proper word.. What they were is the only company that ever made a home microwave oven all but guaranteed to set fire to your kitchen (Did set fire to the break room at my office, thankfuly it was quickly extinguished and no lost time) This was because it was the only home microwave where to make it cook you closed the door and twisted the knob. nothing else, no PUSH TO START or COOK button.. (Their current models do have a cook button)

    I have not only owned a number of products made by LG (Without my knowledge till after purchase) but sold them (Also under a different brand name, one of the above listed brand names in fact) and never have I had one that worked right.. Though I was able to get a LG manufactured microwave to work properly.. With a few GE parts. Yes, it’s now a hybrid.

    ZENITH: What it was is a company that made quality gear, They once made the best (Per professionals) Color television My parents had one.

    What they are now is an LG brand.. yes, I had a Zenith by LB.. Trashed it and put a Panasonic in it’s place.. The panasonic still works. The Zenith, out of the box, did not work.

  11. Stephen Turner Says:

    My first laptop was one of the NEC Packard Bells, in about the year 2000. They were exactly the same as the models NEC sold in the U.S., but branded as Packard Bell, which never had the same reputation in Europe. In fact, I never knew about the reputation until I took my computer to America and found that everyone was astonished I could consider buying such a thing.

  12. Zippy Says:

    My nipples hurt

  13. M. Williams Says:

    Re: Amiga.

    It lives!

    http://hyperion-entertainment.biz/

  14. Nathan Says:

    I hate to rain or snow on your parade but you got it wrong with Netscape. AOL spun off Netscape as the rebranded Mozilla Foundation which is responcilbe for Mozilla Firefox.

  15. aggelis Says:

    sory but a list that ommits

    Silicon Graphics (guess where Terminator 2 rendered its visual effects)

    Digital Equipment Corporation (VAX)

    Cray supercomputers (simulating nuclear weapons when others
    were simulating 1+1)
    Sun (First cheap unix workstation)

    Xerox

    etc………………….

  16. rickb Says:

    And 3Com doesn’t make this list?

    3Com pretty much invented Ethernet for the real world, as Bob Metcalfe designed and built the network adapters that powered the Internet craze. And they bought up US Robotics, exploited what modem technology they could, made some very useful routers, switches, and network gear of nearly all types.

    Then they quietly (sort of) abandoned all of it, starting over. Have a 3Com NetBuilder router? Nice stepstool now, huh?

    3Com bought and killed Palm. It tried the Audrey, sold off everything profitable, and eventually is now owned by HP.

    Fallen, badly, and sadly. And even though I have serveral 3C905/950 cards in boxes, no one cares. 3Com is tarnished, if anything is.

  17. sean Says:

    I must have been lucky: the Packard Bell 486 I bought in 1993 for the princely sum of $A3000 lasted me almost 10 years. Its 210MB HD never failed, surviving a power surge that killed the ide controller. With a I/O card, it kept right on going. The motherboard took 3 years to die, but I remember that its inboard HT-216 vga chip did well enough for graphics until eventually I needed to shell out for a proper video card.

  18. DIrEctQL Says:

    Netscape may have been acquired by AOL their products haven’t exactly go to waste. Ever heard of Mozilla and Firefox?

  19. Scott Dowdle Says:

    Regarding Commodore, as you probably know… Jack Tramiel bought Atari from Warner and became the had of Atari after leaving Commodore.

    While Commodore had a good public name while Mr. Tramiel was the head of it, his business practices were very questionable and one of the reasons for his departure I believe. Once he left, they stopped the poor business practices but the fact of the matter is that no computer company survived the transition from 8-bit computers to 16-bit computers other than Apple. IBM did for a while but then even they decided to get out of the PC game.

    What business practices, see this video:
    http://www.onnetworks.com/videos/play-value/commodore64

  20. Nostalgia Says:

    Heathkit has had an Educational product line since the 70′s and Heathkit Educatonal Systems is still an industry leader in the votech market.

    Kits are not what they used to be due to the fact that the American public lost interest, it took a long time to build one right and they were never a cheaper solution. Unless you consider that the kit you built in the 50′s could still be working today, they were bulletproof designs and came with the manual and schematics to help anyone keep them in working order.

  21. Matt Says:

    Wang
    GE
    EDS
    Danger
    Burroughs
    Gateway
    DEC (anyone remember TOPS-20?)
    NCR (the sacking on Tom Watson was the beginning of mediocrity there)

    The list is endless, but Wang would feature high on my list…

  22. bob Says:

    Atari! Hello! and Wang, Digtal, AOL… All dead or useless… Sad.

  23. jbni Says:

    What happened to Amiga is hideously complex. The company’s gone under (more than once) with its IP being bought out by companies that then renamed themselves Amiga (more than once).

    While Amiga, Inc. still exists, it has basically lost the rights to AmigaOS due to contract shenanigans. A company called Hyperion Entertainment makes the operating system now, with releases as recently as 2009; and it’s possible to buy a ‘new Amiga’ that uses a PowerPC motherboard. These are pretty expensive, but given that it’s such a small-market niche product, the price isn’t unreasonable for a serious hobbyist. (Mine was roughly a thosand dollars.)

    It’s certainly not years ahead of the competition the way Amigas were in the 1980s, but it’s a lot of fun to mess around with. I do /work/ on my Mac and Windows machines; I /goof off/ on the Amiga.

  24. john Says:

    How ’bout GM? The biggest heist of value after the financial crises of 2008-2009. General Motors the company was at one time the largest auto manufacturer, period. It sold off its holdings of profitable divisions to a new company started by the US Government and kept the bad divisions and all its debt.

  25. bill nye Says:

    Chanel Master
    Sankyo
    Sorny
    AMC

  26. El Gaupo Says:

    > You forgot LG, or Lucky Goldstar..

    Dude, LG is one of the world’s biggest conglomerates. They practically own South Korea. While the quality of LG products in the 90s was questionable, the stuff they produce today is generally regarded as pretty good. Heck, I have at several LG appliances and CE and they’re fantastic.

  27. El Zed Says:

    Packard Bell: Reputation in the UK was as dire as that in the states, at least amongst us poor teccie saps who had to try and fix them when they went wrong, I spent years advising people not to buy the damn things.

    CompuServe: Mixed reputation in the UK, personally didn’t rate them and only pointed people in their direction back in the 80′s and early 90′s if I knew they’d require dialup access when going abroad.

    >DEC (anyone remember TOPS-20?)
    Oh Yes, many happy hours spent hacking code between ’83-’87 under it, I wish I had the space (and money) to run a DEC-20..damn, I’ve just Googled it and there’s an emulator/virtual machine..time to get reacquainted again..

  28. Mike Says:

    I would add Emerson, Zenith and Northern Electric (aka Northern Telecom, Nortel) to your list. All were world-class manufacturers at one time. Now Emerson and Zenith are re-branded junk and we all know what became of Nortel.

  29. sydferret Says:

    Dr. Wang was a genius, invented core memory.

    Son Fred ran it into the ground.

  30. kalambong Says:

    You missed couple of them:

    Radio Shack / Tandy certainly qualified.

    I still have fond memories of programming the “Trash 80″ (TRS/80). Believe it or not, it can make music, writing musical notes, and so much more on its 16KB (yes, KiloByte) of memory.

  31. Mauro Says:

    Wow! Thank you for the good article! I loved it

  32. vook Says:

    My beloved Tandy isn’t on the list! (maybe an oversight though)

    I may be unique, but opinion of Amiga/Commodore brand has been gradually improving over the last several years – to the point where I’m nostalgic for them even though I never owned one.

    Then again, I consider DOS 3.30 the last good OS Microsoft made (barely beating 2.11).

  33. Nov8tr Says:

    Ok lets clear up some very bad misconceptions about Netscape right now. Mozilla is not now nor has it ever been a part of AOL. Mozilla invented the internet browser in the first place. In fact the made the original Internet Explorer for Microsoft. Mozilla invented Netscape and later sold that to AOL. They did not sell Mozilla to AOL. It is a seperate entity entirely and has no part of crappy AOL thank you. Firefox is the singular best browser available in the world today and thank god has no part of trashy AOL.

    BTW I’ve been in the computer industry since 1971. I have 3 degrees in computers. Been a MS dev since 1995 and was a network engineer until my health failed and now I’m retired/disabled. Just so you nay sayers realize I’m not some bozo little kid talking out his backside. I know what I’m talking about. Mozilla in NOT part of AOL.

  34. star-d Says:

    There are many other companies deserving inclusion on this list:

    AOL
    Silicon Graphics
    Sun Microsystems
    Digital
    Motorola
    Hewlett Packard
    Texas Instruments

  35. RickMK Says:

    I don’t agree that Packard-Bell computers were all that bad.
    When the time had come for me to move from Commodore 64 and 128 to PC in 1992 (after 8 years), I got a Packard-Bell Axcel 251CD 486 DX2/66, 512 MB hard drive, with Windows 3.11. After 17 years, It Still Works!!! I almost never fire it up any more (no reason to), but every time I do, it works perfectly. O.K., there was a flaw in one of the chips when I got it, but it was quickly repaired while under warranty, and the machine never gave a bit of trouble after that.
    When I upgraded, I got another Packard-Bell, which lasted for many, many years, until the CD drive started causing weird problems. But I still use the hard drive from that computer as a removable hard drive in my current PC!
    Maybe they weren’t all as excellent as mine were, but they certainly weren’t all as bad as they sound in the article. Other than that, I thought it was an excellent article and I enjoyed reading it.
    (If a 13th brand had been in the article, it should have been the Atari.)

  36. Sam Says:

    “Mozilla invented the internet browser in the first place . . . BTW I’ve been in the computer industry since 1971. I have 3 degrees in computers.” — you may want to go back to school then, because all of your positively fictitious degrees are outdated.

    The browser was invented by NCSA Mosaic (on a NeXTStep, I might add, another company not one person has thought to mention), not by Mozilla. Mozilla, as a distinct product, came afterwards. Very, very afterwards.

  37. Michelle Says:

    We must not forget AT&T (or rather Bell Labs), contribution to the computer industry — everything from programming languages to the unix operating system. Plus, they are responsible for the laser and transistor and contributed to radio astronomy, microwave communications, noise theory, etc. Bell labs will be missed.

    How about RCA – consumer electronics, CMOS, electronic components, computers, and a conglomerate — now just a name.

    Fairchild electronics – major developer of Analog and digtial ICs, considered the parent of dozens of electronics firms including Intel, National Semiconductor, and Signetics.

    Visicorp – first spreadsheet programs.

    Ashton-Tate – early pc databases

    Wordstar and Wordperfect – early wordprocessor programs

    Digital Research – CP/M operating system

    Corel – early pc based graphics (the Adobe of their day)

    MOS Technology – made the cpus for Apple, Commodore, and Atari

    Hayes – modems

    Yggdrasil – early CD based Linux distro

  38. Mike Says:

    RCA

    They once had Victor and Whirlpool as divisions. Also did the Spectra/70 line of computers and a lot of defense work. French-owned Thomson now licenses the brand for consumer products.

  39. Fjodor Says:

    Regarding Compaq, as mentioned in earlier comments, it always boggled my mind how they could produce such great and solid servers, and then produce PCs that were so utterly defunct by design, that even their support droids would rather switch the whole machine than try to diagnose the vast amounts of stupid failures with them…

  40. Nov8tr Says:

    Sam you are correct, I stand corrected it was indeed mosiac who invented browsers. I guess I had a brain fart. :) God haven’t heard mosiac in a long time now. But my main point was that Mozilla who is doing Firefox now is not part of AOL and never has been. But thanks for the heads up on my mistake.

  41. bpwnz Says:

    My first PC was a packard bell 486dx, was a great computer. Like sean above I had great success with the hardware. I don’t think a single component ever failed, I kept it around as an internal network apache server long after I had switched up to a Pentium 3 based system. Always wondered where they went though…

  42. Andy Canfield Says:

    HP. Fifty years ago HP was known as the quality instrument company; the devices cost a bit more but ran forever.

    Ironically the thing that killed HP may have been the Laserjet printer. It was so popular that it made the HP stockholders greedy. They proceeded to reap millions on junk plastic printers that don’t last.

    The death knell was when HP bought Compaq, a computer company infamous for it’s weird and incompatable systems. When they slapped their “HP” brand name on Compaq junk, you could not trust the brand any more. My friend bought an HP Presario, only to learn afterwards that it was a Compaq Presario rebranded.

    I no longer trust HP at all. HP sold out their own reputation.

  43. Charlie Warner Says:

    Hewlett Packard should be at the top of this list- once the absloute best manufacturer/developer of test equipment as built by Hewlett and Packard, now the importer of second-rate computers and peripherals that you could not pay me to use…

  44. Jim B. Says:

    I don’t mean to be picky, but you VASTLY understated AT&T. They had OVER one million employees. They ran their OWN retirement plan & insurance. There were quite a few years (I forgot how many) where they were awarded MORE than one patent per DAY. The law in Illinois was (is?) that corporate credit unions needed to be run from ‘company property’ (AFAIK). The Illinois Bell (the “top” company of AT&T) credit union became Bell Federal Savings. Not a trivial happening.

  45. JIMBO Says:

    Transitron

  46. Laris Says:

    Good to see Alta Vista’s name crop up again. I remember it being the first search engine to point us toward sites that gave real informational content, rather than sites that just gave us the CliffsNotes version of everything. Northern Lights also pointed to some fascinating content for a while. Although it was sad to see these two sites fade into oblivion, I’m glad Google came along.

    It seems funny that as late as about 2002, most of my co-workers had never even heard of Google.

  47. Jeff Says:

    HAHAHA, I can’t believe I’m the first to mention AMPEG inventor of the VCR

  48. sydferret Says:

    I’ve been building my own computers for the past 64 years, so obviously my opinions should be taken as gospel truth.

  49. OldieButGoody Says:

    Looks like we need a Top 20 or 25, not a Top 12. Perhaps an expanded version could have a Top 12 for consumer electronics and another Top 12 for computers and software technology.

    For consumer electronics, I would toss Magnavox and perhaps Admiral and Philco into the mix — all of them made consumer electronics: hi-fi systems (pre-stereo) and televisions, and both of them have been resurrected as brands for cheap consumer electronics. There are a bunch of old TV ads at http://www.tvhistory.tv/1950%20Advertising.htm, reminding me of the Motorola TVs that once graced my parents’ home.
    Over time, Philco became Ford Aerospace, which was acquired by Loral, which in turn was acquired by Lockheed Martin.

    For computers, I would put DEC at the very top of the list, ahead of NCR. In the 1970′s, the PDP-8 and the PDP-11 were the top selling machines, ubiquitous in research labs and in computer science departments. I remember running the original release of Bell Labs Unix on a PDP-11/45 several years before the VAX 11/780 showed up. Though we Unix fans derided it, VAX VMS was a very solid and secure operating system. Sadly, DEC’s founder and CEO, Gordon Bell, didn’t believe that people would want personal computers, and their efforts in that space were laughable. Anyone remember the DEC Rainbow? DEC lost out to IBM and Compaq, and it was downhill from there. Ironic that DEC got acquired by Compaq, buried, and then folded into HP.

  50. KA5S Says:

    I worked for some of the names mentioned here. Wang. DEC. Tandy (computers). Then there was 1989′s best PC, the AST 10 MHz AT I bought. (Worked for them too, later).

    All dead reaching for the fast buck. Or taking poison, same thing.

    Owned a Hyperion, once, Canadian machine touted as the computer that could take over from the PET. (And bought up by Commodore before that firm disintegrated.)

    Ave atque vale…

  51. John Says:

    This list shows companies whose technology basis has run it course along with some that botched their long range plan. Virtually no technology has an indefinite lifespan and so a brand has to re-invent / re-brand itself in every cycle to survive. A tarnished brand might better be one where the plan was wrong and clearly wrong with respect to the future. AT&T comes to mind. A company that has done well re-inventing itself through much brilliance and turbulence might be IBM. Heathkit seems like an odd inclusion in the list – they’re an example of a good idea that grew into a fun company for a few decades and then ran its course – with little success in finding an equally exciting follow-on plan. That doesn’t tarnish a brand, it’s just a “…” instead of a clean “period” at the end of their era.

  52. Yes Man Says:

    Many of the quality audio equipment manufacturers of the 50′s 60′s and 70′s are now tarnished brands, stuck on mediocre goods made by contract houses.

  53. Bob Wexelbaum Says:

    Emerson Radio and Television (also known as Emerson Radio & Phonograph Co.)
    not to be confused with Emerson Electric Corp of St. Louis, MO.

    Emerson Radio manufactured many models of radios and TV sets as well as radio and electronic equipment for the military. When DuMont folded Emerskon made DuMont TV sets.

    When the TV and radio industries got taken over by the Japanese, the Abrams brothers who owned Emerson quit the buisness, laid off most of theeir workers in Jersey City, NJ and moved to Israel. They sold their Maryland government enginneering division (Emertron) to Litton’s Amatron. The nasme Emerson and the music sign logo has been sold to a South Korean company which continues to use the same trademark, but none of the original engineers.

    Trade names mean little. You can not judge any brand by its past good or bad performance.

  54. Scott Says:

    How about Atari? Late 70′s early 80′s when the first real generation of videogaming was born, Atari were GODS!

  55. Njorl Says:

    Hercules
    Once respected creator of Graphics Adapters the name is now owned by a French company whose products include medium / low quality Netbooks (I own two of them and they need a lot of care and attention)

  56. Jack Says:

    Polaroid upsets me, the whole ‘take a picture and shake it until it fades into view’ thing was incredible to me as a kid and I’m sad to see it as just a shell.

  57. Newshawk Says:

    I, too, owned a Packard Bell. It was my first true PC, though I had owned a few Ataris in the 80s and a Tandy 1000HX. I bought the 486DX2/50 in October of 1995 with a 14 in. monitor for $500 at WalMart. I was able to get the upgrade from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 for free.

    The power supply went out in early December, IIRC. I called Packard Bell customer support and then waited for a tech to come out to my house. I had to work on New Years Eve and was not at home, but my 16 year old son was. I called home and found out the Packard Bell tech guy had just left the house after replacing the power supply and the computer was running great! I had no complaints after that on Packard bell customer service.

    The computer was bare-bones-240 MB HDD, 8 MB of RAM, no modem, no sound card, no CD-ROM. I got a Soundblaster external CD-ROM/soundcard combo for $99, a US Robotics 19.2 kbps modem for about $40-50 and 16 MB of RAM for some ungodly price-and I bought it from a kid half my age who ran a computer parts store from his room in his parent’s house! That computer servied my kids and me well for about 2-3 years, even through a hard drive upgrade and the installation of an Intel Overdrive processor upgrade, until I could afford to buy a Pentium tower computer custom bult from a local computer store (remember them?)

  58. Wally Says:

    The company may have been a bit dodgy but the Commodore 64 was one of the main icons of the 1980′s. It also is a god.

  59. Tomatonose Says:

    With the mentions of the AOL-acquired brands, what about AOL itself?

    Back in the mid to late 1990′s, when the internet took off, AOL was practically synonymous with the internet. There was even a major motion picture called “You’ve Got Mail”.

  60. there are more Says:

    I’m surprised that DuPont didn’t make this list. It certainly isn’t famous anymore.

  61. Harri Says:

    My favorite: Anybody remember the old IBM PS2 “clicky” keyboards? When IBM moved away from this design (a bad move IMHO) a company called “Unicomp” took over. They are still around. Check http://pckeyboards.stores.yahoo.net/

  62. Ron Standage Says:

    Thanks for a great trip down memory lane. I owned 3 Commodore 64s at one time and owned the 265th IMSAI which I built as a kit back in 1976. Again, thanks!

  63. Burned Says:

    Jack Tramiel pretty much destroyed the home and personal computer market giving Microsoft the opportunity to develop its monopoly on the desktop.

    Commodore’s products under Jack were cheaper, less reliable immitations of better hardware from other companies released years before. Jack over-manufactured 8-bit hardware when 16-bit hardware was on the horizon, filling warehouses with junk nobody wanted to buy and then left Commodore holding the bag. They never recovered.

    Sometimes I think he bought Atari just so he could destroy the Atari home computers, since he couldn’t manage to crush them while at Commodore. The hardware released by Atari under Jack was more of the same old Jack strategy — cost-reduced, less reliable versions of the existing 8-bits, and a cheap, flimsy knock-off of the far better Amiga.

  64. Cay Horstmann Says:

    I’ll second the vote to add Hewlett-Packard to the list. I used to love my HP gear, but nowadays almost all of it is cheap junk. After seeing the “Scanner failure” message one more time on my last HP printer/scanner, I dumped it, breathed a sigh of relief, and bought a decent product from a reputable Japanese manufacturer. Don’t these companies know that it takes a LONG time to win back a disappointed customer?

  65. Scott Chapman Says:

    Borland made some very nice compilers and other software. I used their Turbo Pascal on my Osborne Vixen CP/M machine when I was first getting into computers. dBase II was an early database that ran on CP/M and later on DOS systems. I think Ashton-Tate made it. There were awesome tools back in the day. Zilog made great processors.

  66. dholyer Says:

    I first started to use CompuServe back in 1980 and used it until 1994. This was with my Atari 800 and a 300baud modem that could at first for six months connect at 110baud. In April 1993 I started out using the Web with Netcom that used Netscape I think version 1.4. When Netscape went public stock I desired to invest, but was no allowed to because of a Head Injury a DUI driver gave me in 1989, which under State law removed my financial control of my money from me. I understood the Tech Bubble that Netscape was starting but the people that controlled my banking did not They all seemed to left back in the WW II technology frame of mind and I was a self educated person who in high school in 1976 tought myself how to program because I wanted to learn how to author the TTY game of Star Trek I played on day in my Physics class.

    The item that surprised me was Atari was not in the 12 company’s listed, with out Atari and it’s Atari 2600 cartridge based video game system there may have never been a Nintendo, Play Station 1, 2, or 3, or even a X-box. Atari was not first but it was a far better video game than the Caleco Vision that Sears sold. And if you can discover someone that remembers Atari as a Video Game company, very few of them new they made PC like computers that in 1980 to mid 1983 was far better than the Apple II in the gaming field.

    Then on January 15th 1984 came the Apple Super Bowl ad that used the Goerge Orwell 1984 sci-fi book story to bring out the Apple Macintosh or as I called it the Crapintosh because they cloned Xerox Labs GEM based Graphics User Interface system (GUI). As where Atari had to buy Legal rights from Xerox to use it on there Atari ST 68000 16bit CPUs. The same Computer processor that Apple used.

    From what I know of Atari’s downfall, all via second hand or lower levels of education. Atari made bad investments with Japan and Nintendo who soon replaced Atari in the video gaming market.

  67. dholyer Says:

    In 1987 I traded in my Atari 800XL computer system that had 5.0″ & 3.5″ floppy drives and a 500Meg Hard Disk for a NEC laptop that used a V-30 CPU (16/32bit hybrid CPU) that could run Windows 3.11 but choked on Windows95. I traded that in for a Packard Bell 386sx that could and had a CD R/W drive and do 1280x960x16 bit color.

    Many of the forgotten Company names brought up so far I have not herd their names sin the late 1980′s or early 90′s. But they are old 20th Century history now days, but it is nice to know some still remember the old Cave Man tech company’s.

  68. Oldsarge38 Says:

    I have often wondered what happened to Heathkit. I built/assembled over 30 of their kits starting in 1955. As a licensed amateur my first kit was an AR-1 Receiver and went on to the last one, a Heathkit Organ and a 27″ TV for the family. I still have an attic full of old Heathkit stuff. W0NTV -Gareth (Gary) Goetsch

  69. george_milton Says:

    Wow some of this stuff is way too old IMO to be slapped with a tarnish claim now. And I was stunned to get all the way through and not see Sony on the list. I mean I was taking my Sony mini CD player in for the second servicing within 90 days of purchase when the Rootkit SNAFU hit the papers. Has there ever been a more poorly managed bunch of clowns before or since. Hmm well maybe Toyota but many people still have good experiences with Toyota’s when they don’t auto-engage cruise control and launch some soccer mom and her kids into a busy intersection..

  70. george_milton Says:

    Probably the same thing happened to the guys used to sell little chemistry sets for kids. The NSA visited them and explained that people who play with chemicals or fireworks in this country are no longer students and experimenters “innocent until they hurt someone”. If you go in and buy peroxide from a pool supply store and don’t have a pool, they throw you in Gitmo now and read you your rights a few years later.

  71. Tom Sonson Says:

    Thanks for your useful info, I think it’s a good topic.

  72. David Moisan Says:

    DEC was definitely a fallen brand, and one I miss very much. Many old computer people in Eastern MA and southern NH feel the same. They made Massachusetts in the 70's. They had a helicopter fleet! I always wanted to own a DEC machine growing up. (I sort of did–I got a Decmate III which is a PDP-8/Z-80 combo, but I had to give it up when I moved. :( )

    Ken Olsen was the co-founder who made that unfortunate remark about home computers, not Gordon Bell. Dave Cutler was perhaps the most important, if little known, DEC alumnus–Microsoft hired him away…to write Windows NT! (…and now you know _the rest of the story_.)

  73. DecGeek Says:

    Ken Olsen was the founder and CEO of DEC. Gordon Bell was a VP and chief of engineering.
    VAX/VMS was the basis of a number of internal test projects at DEC, one of which morphed into
    WindowsNT when DEC lost Dave Cutler to Microsoft back in October of 1988.

    DEC was killed by PC's and Unix workstations and Netware taking the place of minicomputers in the mid 1980's. Bad decisions added up to a major disaster when DEC didn't sell their MicroVax chips to third parties (where they could've done a number on Intel and Motorolla) and they also didn't get their Alpha out in numbers with the right software.

    DEC made a deal with Microsoft to put NT on the Alpha but they didn't get the applications guaranteed. The Alpha was probably the best of the 64bit chip designs and could've creamed the Sparc and run a good race against the PowerPC. Apple almost used it for their boxes instead of the PowerPC. The problem DEC had was they were a sole source vendor, basically — with too high a mark-up.

    DEC's founder Ken Olsen believed in something like smart-terminals hooked to information utility providers. He didn't see the public wanting to maintain their own PC and infrastructure and backups… etc. His idea was something like a graphics terminal connected to a network provider who handled the data storage, email and communications.

    Just one guy's opinion and memories..

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  75. spookie Says:

    And considering how bad the ones they brand with the HP logo, that's saying something.

  76. spookiewon Says:

    I hate to rain or snow on YOUR parade, but AOL did no such thing. Netscape released the Communicator (Navigator was just the browser, Communicator was the entire suite) source code under an open source license in March of 1998, and AOL acquired Netscape in November of 1998. The open source project that resulted was known as Mozilla and used contributions from the open source community. Mozilla was the original code-name for the Navigator/Communicator project. The Mozilla project later rebranded the browser portion as Firefox and the email client as Thunderbird. In addition to these, the Mozilla Foundation still distributes a full suite, branded as Seamonkey, Sunbird and Lightning, which are calendaring apps, and a Mac-optimized browser with a Cocoa interface called Camino.

    AOL had nothing what-so-ever to do with the Mozilla Project.

  77. spookiewon Says:

    But these companies don't have tarnished reputations.

  78. spookiewon Says:

    Yes, and thank FSM that Netscape released the source code nine months before AOL acquired them, or things would be VERY different!

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