Brands of Old Shanghai

Wasson Fan
Wasson Fan

Shanghai has always been the city of trade. In the 20’s and 30’s it also became a massive manufacturing center, producing about 50% of the Chinese industrial output. In this modern city in contact with new products from abroad, entrepreneurial businessmen were starting fresh ideas and introducing new brands. Most of those brands disappeared after the take over by the communist party. As all factories became state owned and focused on industrial production, the very notion of brand was phased out. As consumerism has come back to China, new brands have been locally developed or introduced from abroad. The new fashion for Old Shanghai symbolism as high class and a sign of distinction has also seen the re-introduction of a few old brands. All of them do not play on the old Shanghai for their marketing, but some clearly do it successfully. This post shows a few examples:

Electrical appliances:
General Edisson (today’s GE) was already selling equipment in particular households back in Old Shanghai. The firm actually had at least 2 factories (one in today Nangpu district and the other near M50 on Mogashan lu). Although the GE brand for housedholds goods is not used in China, the GE brand and logo are quite a common sight.
Wasson Electric: This native Chinese brand was specialized in household goods. They are mostly known for their electrical fans that still can be found in antic shop. The brand has started to re-appear on electrical equipments in particular fans and electrical radiators. Wasson was quite a famous and high level brand in old Shanghai, but the new equipment marketed under this brand nowadays are mostly of low level.

Aquarius Tray
Old Aquarius waiter's tray

Drinks and mineral water: Coca Cola was already sold in Shanghai, bottled by the Watson Water company. Both brands are back in New Shanghai, though they are now competitors.

New aquarius
New Aquarius

Another really interesting brand is Aquarius that was a brand of mineral water and soft drinks. The brand is now developed by DANONE who is revitalizing this classic brand of old Shanghai.

Cigarettes: One of the icon of China is surely the Double happiness that can be found everywhere. The original brand was developed by Nanyang brothers tobacco that used to have its headquarters and factory in Hong Kou district. The production was continued in Hong Kong by NanYang Tobacco after 1949 where it is still on sale. The current double happiness on sale in China is made by Shanghai cigarettes company.

Cosmetics and healthcare: Colgate was already one of the famous tooth paste brand in old Shanghai, now back again in China. One brand of cosmetics called ShanghaiVive is using the old Shanghai theme and claiming to exist since 1898. They show 1930’s time ads on their excellent website ( that is themed after old Shanghai with a modern touch. Hopefully more brands will follow this wave.

9 thoughts on “Brands of Old Shanghai”

  1. The following are the brands I remember from the late 1930’s and 1940’s:

    Soft drinks.- Niagara brand.

    Vodka.- Snop (in Russian)

    Ethyl alcohol made from potatoes by Farimex, Far East Import Export Corporation. My father, who owned the A.P. Petrellis Wine Co. bought the alcohol and made Vodka out of it.

    Cigarettes.- Chien Men La Coloniale.

    Canned goods.- Ma Ling

    Ice Cream.- Hazelwood (We used to buy the ‘brick’, sized like a real brick, for desert)

  2. An “old shanghai” brand of toothpaste was called “Darkie” and featured a top-hatted black man as it’s logo. Now, we have a very popular, more politically correct version called “Darlie” which still features a top-hatted (though much more suave) black man as it’s logo.

  3. As D. Panaioti said, “Chien Men” cigarettes survive as a rare holdover from the hundreds of cigarette brands available in old Shanghai. Now it’s called Da Chien Men but the pack shows only minor changes from the one you could buy in the old days.

  4. Another brand of cigarettes survives (in name, at least) from old S’hai. “Hatamen” was a very famous smoke manufactured in Shanghai by the British American Tobacco Co. Today there is a “Hatamen” cigarette brand but the pack is very different from the common one of the 20’s/30’s…and it’s certainly not made by BAT!

  5. Soon after the communist takeover Darkie toothpaste was renamed Black & White, and the Blackman with his white teeth was replaced by a black & white checkerboard.
    There was also Laotao (meaning Old Sword) cigarettes, with the English name of Capstan.

  6. I was five in 1937. I remember there was Golden Ox brand glass bottled orange juice, actually something like Catorade.

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