10 Products America Makes Best
Manufacturing in this country is not what it used to be, but when it comes to these goods, no one beats the USA.
MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL In 2010, Chinese manufacturing surpassed the United States' by $600 billion, raking in $1.92 trillion in domestically manufactured product sales compared to America's $1.86 trillion. China is responsible for 19.8% of the world's manufacturing output, while the US trails close behind with 19.4%. But just because America's manufacturing crown has slipped to the People's Republic, and American manufacturing jobs declined roughly 33% between 2000 and 2010, do not second guess America's competitive edge.
While it might come as a surprise, the United States still makes stuff, and in many cases, we remain the best at making it. In America, quality trumps quantity, and we can take pride in the fact that many of the world's best products are still made right here in the USA. The following list is just a sampling that showcases America's innovation leadership, and a hint that our future success lies in shifting both how we interact with competitors and how we define a product.
Nothing says "American Made" quite like Harley Davidson (HOG). Loud, sturdy, and irrefutably cool, Harley Davidson Motorcycles have been cruising US roadways since 1903. Inherently tough, Harleys are one of two motorcycle manufacturers to survive the Great Depression (Indian being the other). In the 1960s and 1970s, the resilient bike maker survived an era of poor quality control, competition from Japanese manufacturers like Honda (HMC) and Kawasaki (KWHIY), and controversial products like the Harley Davidson Confederate Edition, which featured a seat emblazoned with the Confederate flag. Harley emerged from these hard times with the affectionate nickname "hog" – once a derisive insult for the bike's trademark chugging exhaust – as well as a strong association with a style of customized bike called the chopper, popularized as an indispensable piece of Americana in Peter Fonda's iconic film Easy Rider (1969).
Harley engines are designed and manufactured at the company's headquarters in Milwaukee, WI, with additional parts and assembly assigned to numerous plants scattered around the US. Harley does import parts from vendors worldwide, making it roughly 60% American made. It is, however, 100% American cool. Harley takes advantage of its image: Licensing revenue for its logo and trademark design brings in an estimated $40 million per year.
Hooray for Hollywood? Absolutely. India may be the world's leader in the number of annual tickets sold and films produced -- with 13,526 films shot across celluloid, film, and digital formats in 2011 -- but the United States retains the crown for profits made per individual film.
Eighty-seven of the top 100 highest grossing films of all time -- representing a combined revenue of $67.5 billion -- have been produced by American companies, according to IMDB's Box Office Mojo site. The remaining 13 films were produced by Sony Picture Corporation, a subsidiary of Sony Corporation (SNE), headquartered in Tokyo.
Topping the list are News Corp. (NWSA) subsidiary 20th Century Fox's Avatar with $2.8 billion in worldwide revenue and Viacom Inc. (VIA) subsidiary Paramount Pictures' Titanic with $2.2 billion, both directed by James Cameron. Third place was recently reached by Walt Disney Company (DIS) subsidiary Buena Vista's Marvel's The Avengers, which has so far taken in $1.3 billion worldwide. When film revenues over the past century are adjusted for inflation, the all-out winner remains Gone with the Wind, the 1939 classic released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a company recently rehabilitated by Carl Icahn, among others. Its total adjusted revenue stands at $3.3 billion.
Now that's an American blockbuster.
It should come as no surprise that the United States -- with the world's largest defense budget, a whopping $711 billion in 2011 -- is home to the biggest defense contractors in the world. Lockheed Martin (LMT), Northrop Grumman (NOC), and Boeing (BA) top a long list of companies making technology, weaponry, and vehicles that support the armed forces and national defense, a majority of which are American based. These three companies alone took in combined revenues of $27.5 billion in 2011.
This revenue does not all come from the US government since American defense companies have also sought profits abroad, inadvertently making the United States the world's largest arms exporter as well. American arms are considered to be the cream of the crop, and are in high demand on a global scale: US exports were nearly $10 billion in 2011, more than any other country in the world, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
It's estimated that the US aerospace and defense industry employed over one million workers in 2010, providing them with $84.2 billion in wages. Despite controversy surrounding the moral implications of weaponry revenues and the risks of supplying other countries with means of hostility, it's hard to deny that in America, arms are big business.
When it comes to durability, Société Bic (BB.PA) -- the French, Euronex listed stationary manufacturer famous for its disposable Bic lighters -- doesn't hold a candle to America's Zippo brand.
Zippo lighters come with a lifetime guarantee, and although thousands of different casings have been designed over the company's 70-year history, the lighter's inner workings have changed little since its introduction in 1933. Its sturdy structure and windproof design allow flames to spark in the harshest of condition, which made them especially popular among US soldiers during World War II.
On June 5, 2012, Zippo rolled out its 500 millionth lighter, and made sure all 620 employees at its Bradford, PA, plant were involved in the milestone. Zippo, a privately-held firm, had an additional manufacturing plant in Niagara Falls, Canada, from 1949 until 2002, when it was shutdown, making these iconic lighters a wholly American manufactured product.
Luxury Kitchen Appliances
Take a stroll through any kitchen show room across the United States, and prepare to be surprised by how many appliances are made just around the corner. Luxury appliances, to be specific, like a Greenwood, Mississippi-manufactured Viking range – a stove top that will cost anywhere between $3,000 and $14,000. The Viking Range Corp. has received considerable fanfare for the attention it puts into product design, making it another example of how quality of craftsmanship is helping American companies survive.
After dinner, leftovers may find their way to a Sub-Zero refrigerator, another high-quality kitchen staple that's made in America. The Sub-Zero Freezer Co. assembles its built-in refrigeration product line at its 600,000 square foot facility in Madison, WI, where the company is headquartered. (Sub-Zero has also opened newer factories in Phoenix, Arizona and Richmond, Kentucky.) The company's acquisition of California-based Wolf Ranges in 2000 officially put the refrigerator company in the gas cooking and grilling business, which was traditionally Viking's camp.
Now that's some good-ole' homegrown competition.
By now it's certain that most people know Apple (AAPL) hasn't been assembling its revamped MacBook Pros beneath its Cupertino, CA, headquarters. The iPhone maker is the top-grossing computer hardware seller in the world with $127.8 billion in sales in 2011, followed by Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) with $125 billion and Dell (DELL) with $62 billion – all companies that are American-based. However, for the most part, these companies manufacture outside of the United States. Intel (INTC) is one of the few computing giants who still makes its products primarily in the America, where seven of its ten production facilities are located.
Software, however, is a different story. According to Forbes Global 2000 list of the world's biggest public companies, seven of the top 10 highest grossing computer software and programming companies are found in America. These include Microsoft (MSFT), Oracle (ORCL), Symantec (SYMC), CA (CA), VMware (VMW), Adobe Systems (ADBE), and Intuit (INTU). The leader of this list, Microsoft, is notable for revolutionizing personal computing with its MS DOS operating system in the 1980s and its Windows platform in the 1990s. Although Microsoft is headquartered in Washington state, most other software giants are based in California's Silicon Valley.
In 2008, Belgian-Brazilian beer maker InBev acquired Anheuser-Busch -- the maker of quintessential American brews like Budweiser, Busch, Michelob, and Natural Ice -- and formed AB InBev (BUD), the world's largest brewer, producing roughly 25% of global volume. Although Anheuser-Busch's 12 US factories remained stateside, the merger essentially robbed the country's ownership of a classic American product: the brewskie.
But despite AB InBev-owned beers accounting for 50% of the US market, the American craft beer industry is booming. According to the Brewers Association, there were 1,940 craft breweries operating in 2011. That number is estimated to have breached 2,000 this year. There were 250 brewery openings last year, with only 37 closings, and the industry is currently growing at 15% by dollars and 12% by volume.
The number of active breweries in the United States hasn't been this high since the 1880s, and the estimated 356 million gallons they're bottling is getting serious attention. At the recently held World Beer Cup in San Diego, American beer brewers took in 208 of the 284 medals, competing against 53 other countries for the landslide win. The US won 49 out of a possible 54 medals in British-style categories, and 22 out of a possible 33 in Belgian-style categories.
It's safe to say America is currently in a beer-making renaissance.
Guitars and Pianos
Birthplace of jazz, the blues, and rock and roll, America is also home to the manufacturers of some of the world's best musical instruments. Founded in Kalamazoo, MI, and currently headquartered in Nashville, TN, the Gibson Guitar Corporation has been manufacturing string instruments since 1908 when Orville Gibson began producing mandolins. Gibson was responsible for many innovations to the banjo, guitar, and mandolin design in the 1920s, and went on to produce the first commercially successful electric guitar in the 1930s. Despite hard times in the 1970s when the move to Nashville's humid climate compromised production, as well as the recent controversy surrounding Gibson's use of illegal ebony (Gibson denies any wrongdoing), the company is currently doing fine, with a long-term growth trend approaching 30%, according to the company's CEO .
Pianos are another tune-maker still produced in America. Although the domestic industry has shrunk as consumers have shifted to cheaper Asian-manufactured brands, in America, quality trumps quantity. Steinway & Sons pianos have been handmade in Queens, NY, for over 150 years, and high-end models fetch anywhere from $50,000 to $120,000. Despite being one of the last piano manufactures in the United States, Steinway is still regarded as the best in the world , with 98% of concert pianist preferring the brand
Check out Minyanville's list of 10 American Industries Still Hanging On.
Does the US make the best chair money can buy? The world's many corporate citizens who use the Aeron chair probably think so. The iconic office seat is touted by its manufacturer Herman Miller, Inc. (MLHR) as the only chair people can recognize by name. The company, headquartered in Zeeland, MI, has been producing furniture for the home and office since 1923. When it introduced the Don Chadwick and Bill Stumpf-designed Aeron in 1994, the ergonomically-correct near-sculpture was immediately inducted into the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection.
The chair's $869 price tag doesn't deter demand, and it's estimated that a new Aeron is built every 17 seconds at Herman Miller's West Michigan production facility. Here workers apply the Kaizen process, a manufacturing technique adopted by Herman Miller from Toyota (TM) in the early 1990s. This move was an unexpected show of American ingenuity. When Herman Miller execs saw the efficiency with which Toyota produced its machinery, they convinced the auto-maker to teach them their techniques.
Herman Miller made sure it was one of the first companies to take advantage of Toyota's methods because the company saw it as an opportunity to survive. What's more American than that?
While America recently lost the title of home to the world's richest person to Mexico -- Telmex (TELMEXL.MX) Chairman Carlos Slim is now the wealthiest man on the planet – we still pack a punch when it comes to individual wealth. According to Forbes, 11 of the world's top 20 billionaires are made in the USA.
Former richest-man-in-the-world Bill Gates, Chairman of Microsoft (MSFT), was bumped down to second place with a net worth of $61 billion. His close friend and bridge partner Warren Buffett, Chairman, President and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK.A), follows in third with $44 billion. Larry Ellison comes in as the 6th richest with $36 billion as founder and CEO of Oracle (ORCL). Christy Walton, Jim Walton, Alice Walton, and S. Robson Walton make the list at 11th, 16th, 17th and 18th wealthiest respectively, with a combined net worth of $95.4 billion thanks to their Wal-Mart (WMT) empire. Charles Koch and his younger brother David Koch, who run the private international conglomerate Koch Industries, are tied for 12th richest at $25 billion each. Bottoming off the list as 20th wealthiest is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has an 88% stake in the multinational mass media corporation Bloomberg LP.
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