Founded in 1850, American Express has had quite a storied American history. Starting off as a dusty traveler of western expansion, forwarding freight and valuables to the growing and prosperous nation, the express company has grown into a American success story. After serving as the official currency exchange service on Ellis Island as well as wearing other various delivery and financial hats, the organization evolved into a company that created and sold financial products such as money orders and travelers cheques.
The general themes of the now "global payment company" include American perseverance, innovation, good citizenship and dedication to history and far-reaching customer service. These themes have stayed fairly consistent from the 19th century until today. Examples of the far-reaching customer service, good citizenship, historic link & innovation themes all rolled into one dates back to the brands heyday and consequently can still be witnessed today in some of their practices & marketing concerns. During World War 11 American Express was appointed official agent of the British government in charge of delivering relief parcels and money etc. to British P.O.W.'s in Germany and elsewhere. Also the fact that the brand was actually present & providing financial assistance to the throngs of immigrants on Ellis Island carries the themes of historic links, customer service & innovation. American Express also introduced Traveler's Cheques in 1891 and has been offering cards in markets outside the U.S. since 1958; traits showcasing innovation.
Then in 1983, American Express was one of the earliest users of "cause marketing" when they ran a promotion that for every time a member used their card they would in turn donate a penny to the restoration of the Statue of Liberty. Small businesses are also important to the brand, and they demonstrate this today with their providing of credit & assistance to small businesses and companies through their "Small Business Network."
When I think of American Express, the brand to me means trust, quality and American perseverance. First, they have been ranked by Business Week as the 22nd "most valuable brand in the world" and in 2005 it ranked in the top twenty of the "2005 Most Trusted Companies." They survived an attempt in the 1930's by J.P. Morgan Chase to totally absorb the organization, and have continued to evolve and grow. They have been around since 1850 in different capacities and have played an intricate role in American history (to make money of course..but still).