8 Companies Behind the 4th of July: Where Your Pool Toys, Beer, and Hot Dogs Come From

Last year at this time, I created Business Pundit’s first 8 Companies Behind the 4th of July list. When I looked over the list again this year, I found that several companies and products listed had dramatically changed since the list was created. InBev bought Anheuser Busch. Kraft was listed on the Dow Jones, no doubt replacing failed financial companies. People are suddenly opposed to high-fructose corn syrup.

To illustrate those changes, I revised the list. It now includes a Last year/This year section to show how each company has changed. I also added a “How to Go American” tip at the bottom of each item, which gives specific advise on how to support American-made versions of the product.

Fourth of July is the ultimate all-American holiday. Part of what makes it so American is the associated schwag. I can’t think of a single 4th I’ve celebrated without beer and BBQs, flags and fireworks, corn on the cob, and hot dogs.

Here’s a list of the eight major Independence Day accessories–and the companies behind them:


Beer: Anheuser-Busch InBev, The Biggest Beer Company on Earth

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(Image: longtail.com)

Last year: Anheuser-Busch was the biggest brewing company in the United States, with a 48.8% share of national beer sales. By revenue, it was the world’s fourth-largest brewing company.

This year: InBev, the world’s second largest brewer at the time, purchased Anheuser-Busch in a $52 billion deal. The resulting brewing giant, Anheuser Busch InBev, is now the biggest in the world. The new company laid off 1,400 US employees, sold all of Anheuser Busch’s corporate jets, diminished the number of company-supplied Blackberrys from 1200 to 720, eliminated free beer for employees, and replaced “ornate executive suites” with a “sea of desks” (Source: Wall Street Journal)

How to Go American:
Buy craft beers! They’re locally made by people who care about beer. They taste better, too.


BBQs: Weber Made the Grill

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(Image: crossthebreeze.wordpress.com)

In 1958, George Stephen invented a new kind of grill. Stephen, a Weber Brothers Metal Works employee, created a dome shaped grill with a rounded lid—the first prototype of the classic Weber kettle grill. Today, upwards of 85 million American households own a grill. The Weber kettle grill started it all, even the gas grill, which the company introduced in 1985.

Last year: Weber’s annual survey of people and their grills found that people like their grills colorful. And people with grills entertain at home more often than people without them.

This year: The survey found that the economy is driving people to grill at home more often. Not only that, people are spending more money buying accessories for their grills, or even upgrading them. Gas grills are most popular.

How to Go American: Buy locally-grown food for this year’s 4th of July party.


American Flags: It’s All About Annin

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(Image: visi.com)

Annin & Co., arguably America’s first flag company, made some old and important flags. Like these:

• It was an Annin flag that flew at the inauguration of President Zachery Taylor, starting an inaugural tradition that has continued through the inauguration of President George W. Bush.
• An Annin flag draped the coffin of President Abraham Lincoln on its journey from Washington D.C. to Springfield, Illinois.
• The U.S. Marines raised an Annin flag atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima in 1945
• NASA selected an Annin flag to participate in Apollo 11’s mission to the moon in 1969.

Today, the company claims to be America’s biggest and oldest flag manufacturer.

Last year: Annin certifies its flags are made in the USA. Major retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, and Tru-Value Hardware Stores sell Annin flags.

This year:: Annin is branching out its product base with flag spreaders, team-licensed tailgaiting flags, and, weirdly, shutter covers. Yes, people really do cover their shutters with cloth.

How to Go American:
Buy a flag from one of the retailers that sells Annin products.


Fireworks: B.J. Alan’s Diamond Sparkler

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(Image: howstuffworks.com)

Diamond Sparkler, the Ohio-based manufacturer behind the Phantom Sparklers brand, is the country’s only domestic sparkler maker. Retailers have been importing cheaper China-made sparklers for years. Illegal dumping of foreign-produced sparklers in America has further driven down prices.

“Diamond Sparkler struggles each year to make a profit,” said Bruce Zoldan, president of Phantom Fireworks/B.J. Alan. “But I just can’t envision something as American as sparklers, with its association with the 4th of July, not being made in this country.”

Last year: Beijing pulled off a massive, elaborate fireworks show at the opening of the 2008 Olympics. 29 firework footprints “walked” across the sky to the Bird’s Nest, symbolizing the 29th Olympic Games, writes Xinhua. After that, more than 40,000 firework flowers, stars, Olympic rings, and smiley faces lit up the city. 2,008 smiley faces marked the climax of the show.

This year: Cities and towns across the United States are canceling annual fireworks shows due to a lack of municipal funds. Some cities don’t have the money, while others are choosing to allocate funds towards more urgent expenditures, like sprinklers and food banks, according to the LA Times.

How to Go American: If your 4th of July inventory includes sparklers, buy the American-made kind.


Hot Dogs: Wienermaker Does Good

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(Image: gothamist.com)

Oscar Meyers Wiener is part of Kraft Foods, a company I was surprised to learn two lesser-known facts about. One, its chair and CEO is a woman: Irene Rosenfeld.

Secondly, Kraft has a recent history of donating aid to disaster-stricken countries. For example, they made a $150,000 donation to the Red Cross after China’s devastating Sichuan earthquake. They donated $50,000 to Myanmar cyclone victims through the World Food Programme. $20,000 went to the American Red Cross to help victims of the Georgia/Oklahoma/Missouri storms and tornadoes.

Last year: Kraft was added to both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the new Global Dow.

This year: After Kraft canceled a partnership with Ferrara Pan Candy Co., CEO Salvatore Ferrara II is striking back by creating a product to rival Kraft’s Toblerone bar. The “Ferrara,” due out this fall, is a trapezoidal chocolate nougat bar that looks suspiciously like the triangular, chocolate-nougat Toblerone. A more apt name for the bar might be the “Vendetta.”

How to Go American: Kraft food is pretty American. It also supports big agribusinesses. If you’re not into that, buy locally-grown food.


Corn: The All-American Inefficiency Crop

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(Image: ecotality.com)

According to the National Corn Growers Association:

The United States is the largest corn producer in the world. In 2003, corn growers in the United States produced 256.905 million metric tons (MMT) of corn, exporting nearly 20% of the crop (51.0 MMT). The top five destinations for U.S. corn are: Japan, Mexico, Taiwan, Canada and Egypt.

Last year The country produced too much corn. However, that didn’t slow the government from subsidizing the plant, which costs taxpayers more than $3 billion annually.

This year: Public opposition to high-fructose corn syrup (HCFS) is mounting. Starbucks and Jamba Juice have both revamped their menus to exclude HCFS, which could increase LDL (bad cholesterol) levels. If corn consumption demand goes down, what’ll happen to all that extra corn? Oh, right, ethanol.

How to Go American: Corn is certainly made in the USA, but if you think corn subsidies are excessive, contact your Congressperson.


Baseball Caps: New Era Heads the Pack

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New Era, a Buffalo-based company, is the “largest sports-licensed headwear company in the world.” Exclusive deals with MLB, NHL, NCAA, NFL, and NBA teams ensure that business stays lucrative for this domestic company.

Last year: In 2007, New Era helped the MLB change its baseball cap for the first time in 53 years. The new caps are 100% polyester (instead of wool), and wick sweat better than their predecessors.

This year: New Era designed a limited edition, Obama-themed cap to celebrate the inauguration in January. The hat had phrases like “Hope,” “Dream,” and “Progress” embroidered on it. “Bailout” was not yet included in the vocabulary of the time.

How to Go American: Go to a game. Don’t forget your Starter cap.


Pool Toys: From China to Suburbia

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(Inage: toys53.com)

They almost invariably come from China. Sometimes they impale children. Pool toys, it turns out, have a dark side. But they’re too much fun to dismiss.

Last year: This year, somebody designed an amphibious PC workstation so that users can float in a pool while they work. Count me in.

This year: How about a Death Star beachball?

How to Go American: Most toys are made in China, but some companies, like AmeriKid, offer USA-made toys. What better way to celebrate independence than by supporting American businesses?


Happy 4th of July!

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