10 Companies That Completely Reinvented Themselves

Royal Dutch Shell
That shell logo is not just a symbol; it's a nod to the company's beginnings as a decorative shell importer. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

One of the world's largest and richest energy companies can trace its beginnings to a small antique store in London's East End. In the 1830s, Marcus Samuel ran an antiques and collectibles shop specializing in decorative shells he imported from the Far East. His sons expanded this into a broader import/export business. Their ships would leave London stocked with machinery and tools and return from Japan and China with rice, silk and copperware [source: Shell].

By the late 19th century, the stage was set for a global oil boom. The internal combustion engine was fueling a transportation revolution that ran on oil. The Samuels built the world's first bulk oil tanker to navigate the Suez Canal in 1892, adding tremendous efficiency to the oil delivery pipeline to Europe. In 1897, they renamed their shipping business the Shell Transport and Trading Company [source: Shell].

In the early 20th century, Shell merged with Royal Dutch Petroleum — its closest competitor in Far East oil fields — to join forces against John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil. The new Royal Dutch Shell Group replaced its former logo, a mussel shell, with the scallop shell, now visible at 44,000 Shell stations worldwide [source: Shell].