This entry is written by my colleague, Ronald G. Darner.
Etymology of "rebadge", verb, adapted from online Oxford English Dictionary
According to the OED, the date of the appearance of rebadge in veryday vocabulary is 1954, but as Ron Darner's narrative (below) suggests, this term is in use considerably before -- indeed as the practice dates far back as 1890 --
Chiefly Business, To assign a new or different badge, name, etc.; (in later use) spec. to market (a car or other product, esp. one bought from another manufacturer) under a new name; to relaunch with a new logo or name. Compare "rebrand".
"Rebadging", or sometimes just "Badging", is a term used to describe putting different brand names onto products produced by a single
manufacturer. Often, the new name is that of a "house brand" from a major retailer or chain of retailers. It may be the name of the
retailer, itself. In some cases, products are identical to those sold directly by the manufacturer itself, except for the new nameplate;
in others, relatively minor changes are made to further distinguish the badged/rebadged product from its parent. For this article,
products with redesigned housings will be considered as having undergone major changes, and therefore not merely "rebadged."
The term "badge engineering" has also been used to describe the same process, especially with regard to automobiles see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Badge_engineering. When the Austin-Healey "Sprite" was also sold as the MG "Midget", writers often used the collective term "Spridget", because the cars were essentially identical. A related term, "private label", is often used to describe companies whose goods are sold entirely through others, in packages showing ONLY the seller's brand, model, and description.
This is not a recent phenomenon. Sewing machines from the days of foot-treadle power were sold through various outlets, and with different names applied. According to ISMACS (the International Sewing Machine Collector's Society), this was most common from about 1890 to 1940 (see http://www.ismacs.net/faq.html - badged). They say that they know of over 5,000 such "exclusive names" being produced by only half a dozen original manufacturers! This system permitted department stores, catalog sales outlets, and other retailers to offer their own machines, ones that the customer could get nowhere else, despite not having any in-house manufacturing capability and despite the fact that a fundamentally identical machine could be purchased from perhaps dozens of different sources!
This period includes a large part of the time when power tools are getting a toehold in the home workshop. It is no surprise that rebadging takes place there, too: companies like Sears-Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, Western Auto, J. C. Penney, and others sold portable power drills, sanders, and circular saws, as well as the larger machines, under their own names. Sears had Dunlap, Craftsman, and Companion lines; Wards had Powr-Kraft, Western Auto offered “Wizard”, and JCP had PennCraft, for example. Additionally, some items were sold with the Sears-Roebuck name on them, and the same may have been true for others of this group. Smaller department stores, hardware stores, and very likely others, also offered rebadged tools. It can be very difficult to determine who made a particular machine or portable power tool; often, the manufacturer's name was nowhere to be found.
In a few instances, research has yielded lists of connections: Sears-Roebuck part numbers of the XXX.YYYYY format are mostly known. The prefix will usually narrow the possible manufacturers down to about three possibilities or fewer. Still, there are gaps. The best lists I know of can be found at the Vintage Machinery website. One arranged by the prefix number is at http://vintagemachinery.org/Craftsman/manufacturers.aspx?sort=1.
This same site offers an excellent background, with links, on mostly Craftsman tools. Note that because Vintage Machinery doesn't deal
with portable tools, there are large gaps, for some purposes. Still, the site list about two dozen companies which manufactured power
tools for Sears.
Some Craftsman Tool Catalogs at http://www.roseantiquetools.com/id116.html can help track down specific items. It can be interesting to view catalogs from successive years, and to observe that different nameplates have been applied to the same product. For example, a small drill made by A. C. Gilbert was sold as a "Companion" from 1937 to 1940, and as a Dunlap in 1941. Gilbert also sold it directly, and there may have been other names applied for other retailers.
Many manufacturers had multiple product lines, often positioning one as an entry-level brand, another as an intermediate, and (often with the company's own name) a third as the top-of-the-line. In power tools, substantially identical-looking items might be sold with sleeve bearings throughout (entry level), or with ball- and roller-bearings throughout at the top end. Warranties or guarantees might differ and current draw versus developed horsepower could be substantially changed by this choice. Not unreasonably, prices for "Industrial-Rated" versions with more expensive bearings and a longer lifetime reflected the quality level. Each of these levels might also be available through other outlets, rebadged to suit the vendor's dictates.
Then as now, companies bought each other out, merged, or were otherwise changed over time. It was not unusual for an existing product name to continue in production after such a takeover; sometimes the nameplate showed the new parent company, but often there was no outward sign. In power drills, Cummins Manufacturing (Chicago) made drills that were also badged as Spiegel; in later times, the Cummins tools might also show the name John Oster, a Milwaukee company. Similarly, Mall tools, once independent, were sold as coming from the Mall Division of Remington Arms. The Albertson Co. in Sioux City Iowa sold some of its power tools as Sioux. Black & Decker offered Home Utility drills, sometimes with the B&D logo, and other times without it. Attempting to track some of the changes can be quite difficult. Even today, it is common practice for companies selling rebadged goods to require that the actual manufacturer (the term "OEM" means Original Equipment Manufacturer) provide items with new labels or nameplates, sometimes in different packaging, and with no trace of the manufacturer visible to the customer. Any "Big Box Store" or Home Center will have shelf upon shelf of "private label" goods.
Other fields where rebadged goods are common include foodstuffs (the "store brand" may well have been made by the "name brand" manufacturer whose product is next to it on the shelf), over-the-counter drugs, furniture and other home furnishings, gasoline & oil, small airplanes, and many more. The term itself is used almost exclusively for automobiles, if search engine results are to be believed.