Ahead of the Curve – Influencers Before Their Time

Words: Crush

In the age of social media, influencers have taken the world by storm, starting international trends and pioneering brands. There were, of course, trailblazers who paved the way for them long before Instagram and TikTok existed. These unsung heroes were essentially influencers before their time, captivating audiences with their charm, innovation and knack for trendsetting. From Brownie Wise, the powerhouse behind Tupperware parties, to selfie inventor Robert Cornelius, we dive into the stories of these influential figures who shaped industries and made long-lasting impressions.

Asa Griggs Candler –  The Coca Cola Brand Whizz

Candler’s journey with Coca-Cola began in 1887, when he acquired the company’s formula from its inventor, John Pemberton. Recognising the beverage’s potential, Candler set out to transform it into a global phenomenon. He understood that the key to success lay not only in the product itself, but also in effective consumer marketing. Under Candler’s guidance, Coca-Cola saw phenomenal growth.

He pioneered innovative marketing techniques, such as distributing coupons for free samples and advertising campaigns. Candler’s vision extended beyond mere salesmanship; he wanted Coca-Cola to become a ubiquitous symbol of American culture. Asa Griggs Candler’s role as an influencer in the early days of Coca-Cola cannot be overstated. His strategic vision, genius marketing techniques and commitment to quality propelled Coca-Cola to become the iconic and globally recognised brand that it is today.

Brownie Wise – The Tupperware Party Starter

Tupperware has been a life force for many women and salespersons, offering them an opportunity to earn an income and support their families – largely owing to the efforts of one sensible woman named Brownie Wise. This iconic American saleswoman revolutionised the hostess party plan, better known as Tupperware parties, thus facilitating women’s careers in the post-war baby boom era. Wise empowered thousands of housewives to become entrepreneurs and showcased the power of building a personal brand.

Charles Revson – The Cosmetics Innovator

Before beauty influencers swiped their way to stardom, Charles Revson was transforming the cosmetics industry. As the founder of Revlon, he understood the art of marketing beauty products like no other. Revson pioneered the concept of matching lipstick shades to nail polish colours, changing the way women approached their beauty routines. With his keen eye for trends and impeccable sense of style, he showed the world that cosmetics weren’t just about enhancing beauty, but also about self-expression.

Eduard Haas III – The Minted Sweet Icon

Eduard Haas III, the creator of PEZ, holds a significant place in the confectionery world for introducing the iconic sweet that we all coveted as kids (and maybe still as adults?). Haas, a long-time anti-smoking advocate, decided that peppermints might appeal to those trying to quit, and so developed the concept of PEZ – a compressed peppermint tablet to help quit smoking, or at the very least freshen breath. He called the peppermint candy ‘PEZ’, short for pfefferminze, or ‘peppermint’ in German.

A few years later, he employed an engineer to design a mechanical dispenser (inspired by cigarette lighters of the time) that dispensed one sweet at a time. When he began selling his product in America, he realised that people weren’t interested in giving up smoking just yet, so he pivoted and marketed to kids, creating full body character dispensers (the first being Father Christmas) and adding fruity flavours. PEZ quickly became a beloved collectible item, but the full body dispensers became too expensive to produce, so eventually they were modified to being just the dispenser’s head. Haas’ creativity and innovation laid the foundation for PEZ’s enduring popularity. With over 1500 designs to date, spanning every recognisable pop culture icon, he turned his minty invention into a cultural phenomenon, still enjoyed by generations worldwide today.

Elizabeth Magie – The Monopoly Maverick

If you didn’t think it would be possible to create awareness about socio-economic injustice and be a game inventor, you have yet to meet Elizabeth Magie – the genius created a game that became a household name, Monopoly. Originally called ‘The Landlord’s Game,’ Magie’s creation aimed to highlight the perils of monopolistic capitalism. Her game was a critique of societal inequalities and served as an educational tool to promote economic fairness. Though overshadowed by the Parker Brothers’ version of Monopoly, Magie’s visionary contribution to gaming and social commentary cannot be overlooked.

Fannie Farmer – The Food Blogger

Fannie Farmer revolutionised the world of cooking and culinary education before celebrity chefs graced our screens. Farmer, an American culinary expert, authored The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, a groundbreaking cookbook that introduced standardised measurements and precise cooking techniques. Her meticulous approach to recipe writing and emphasis on precise measurements transformed the culinary landscape. Farmer’s legacy lives on in modern cooking influencers who continue to educate and inspire others.

Hedy Lamarr – The Technological Trailblazer

In the world of technology, Hedy Lamarr was an unlikely influencer ahead of her time. Though primarily known as a glamorous Hollywood actress, Lamarr’s brilliant mind and innovative spirit led her to co-invent frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology.

This groundbreaking invention laid the foundation for modern wireless communication systems, including WiFi and Bluetooth. Lamarr’s contribution to technology went unrecognised for years, but her inventive genius has since been acknowledged, making her an unsung hero in the digital revolution.

Josiah Wedgwood – The Ceramics Mastermind

Josiah Wedgwood was an influential figure in the world of ceramics. At the age of 29, Wedgwood revolutionised pottery-making techniques with innovative materials, artistic designs and marketing strategies. Jasper, an unglazed vitreous fine stoneware, was the most famous of Josiah’s inventions – in fact, the iconic light blue Jasper gave rise to the expression “Wedgwood Blue” and remains a recognisable signature worldwide today.

Many common sales techniques such as direct mail, money-back guarantee, free delivery, illustrated catalogues, buy-one-get-one-free and even celebrity endorsement came from Josiah Wedgwood. His most notable celeb being Queen Charlotte, who ordered a set of cream-coloured earthenware. It pleased her so much that Josiah Wedgwood was granted permission to style himself ‘Potter to Her Majesty’ and call his innovative Creamware ‘Queen’s Ware.’ Wedgwood was also a fervent abolitionist and social reformer. He utilised his business influence as a platform to promote and financially support the abolition of slavery, demonstrating his commitment to social justice and equality.

Levi Strauss – The Denim Visionary

When it comes to iconic jeans, one name stands above the rest – Levi Strauss. Born in Germany in 1829, Strauss emigrated to the United States and eventually founded Levi Strauss & Co. in 1853. He played a pivotal role in popularising the first-ever blue jeans, which were initially designed as sturdy work pants for miners during the California Gold Rush. Strauss’ innovation in using rivets to reinforce the stress points of the pants revolutionised the durability and longevity of denim. Today, Levi Strauss jeans are a timeless symbol of style, comfort, and the pioneering spirit of the American West.

Madam C.J. Walker – The Haircare Revolutionary

Today, thousands of black haircare products are on shelves – something that wouldn’t have been possible without Madam C.J. Walker, a pioneer who changed this industry.

As a self-made African-American entrepreneur, she created a line of hair care products specifically designed for black women. Walker’s success not only established her as one of the first female millionaires in the United States, but also empowered countless women by promoting economic independence and self-care. The story of Madam C.J. Walker is incredibly inspiring, we highly recommend watching her biopic on Netflix, titled ‘Self Made’, where she is played by the brilliant Octavia Spencer.

Robert Cornelius – The Selfie Pioneer

Before the era of front-facing cameras and selfie sticks, Robert Cornelius took the world’s first known self-portrait in 1839. As a photography enthusiast, Cornelius positioned himself in front of his camera and captured a daguerreotype self-portrait – an older technique used to take photos – marking the birth of the selfie. Little did he know that his pioneering act would shape the way we capture and share self-expression in the digital age.

Cornelius unknowingly kickstarted a global phenomenon that has since transformed the way we document our lives and connect with others through selfies.

Tim Leatherman – The Multi-tool Engineer

Leatherman has become one of the world’s best multipurpose tool brands, and has helped people solve expected and unexpected problems in everyday life, all thanks to the founder of this pioneering brand. Forty years ago, Tim Leatherman built the world’s first pliers-based multi-tool. While on a budget trip to Europe in 1975, Tim and his wife Chau constantly came across leaky hotel plumbing and road-side fixes for their cranky Fiat. Tim realised the need for a pliers based, multi-purpose tool.

On their return to the states, Tim took his ‘multi-tool idea’, some sketches he made on the trip, and got to work. Despite having his idea rejected by potential investors, Tim persevered and founded the Leatherman Tool Group eight years later, in July 1983. Today, his innovation and compact multi-tools continue to help people fix, craft and build.

Want more? Discover The World’s Tastiest Accidental Food Inventions

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