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Editor's Note: This countdown was originally compiled by TheStreet Staff and published as a multi-part series, beginning May 1999. The original, unedited text is reproduced below.
NEW YORK (
TheStreet) -- The American Century has become the Business Century.
Two World Wars reduced politics to rubble, giving rise to government-by-focus-group. Art and culture have ground to a halt. Religion and science are locked in a futile struggle. Capitalism "won." Our colleagues are our families, and we increasingly find meaning in work. Like David Mamet says, Get them to sign on the line which is dotted. Nothing else matters.
If you buy all that, take a day off. You're working too hard. Still, business has been important, if not quite a replacement for everything else Americans held dear 100 years ago. TheStreet.com decided to examine the century in U.S. business and finance. There aren't enough lists floating around out there.
Countdown: A Century of U.S. Business, an all-week series ranking the top 100 signal points, inventions, ideas and companies of the 20th century, from least important to most. (Apologies to the rest of the world; look for our take on the 21st century's top global business events in mid-2099.) Each of the entries wrought some major change in the way business is done, the way money is invested, the way life is lived.
A word on methodology: We have focused on when a development became commercialized, when a company came of age, when an idea rose to become a reality. The emergence rather than the beginning. George Mallory may have gotten to the top of Everest first, but Edmund Hillary got up and down. The century is riddled with brilliant inventions and wonderful entrepreneurial ideas. Few were seminal.
For instance, when Microsoft licensed MS-DOS to IBM and when IBM let the PC clones license the operating system on their own, Bill Gates' company became the Standard Oil of the latter half of the century. If it hadn't penned that deal, Mister Softee might have remained one more West Coast thought to die still in the garage. The first successful commercial airplane, Douglas Aircraft's DC-3, is on the list; the Wright brothers didn't make the cut.
Don't expect the Great Crash of 1929 to top the list. And we don't really buy into the Great Men of History theory, so there aren't too many dead white guys on the list. All those things your parents and grandparents talk about -- the Depression, the RJR Nabisco takeover fight, walking barefoot to school in the snow, uphill both ways, and on and on? They're certainly important, but as time has gone on, some events and people necessarily have receded in importance. And some things that seem so vitally significant today -- say, the electronic auction phenomenon -- seem faddish. At least for now.
Should you take this list as gospel? Rankings are always subjective. We've tried to bring our passion for and knowledge of business and finance to this list. We hope to inform and we hope to give you some laughs.
We hope you get agitated, too. You'll find some gaps and horrible omissions. There'll be plenty of space for your quibbles, protests and, if warranted, praise. Whatever it may be, we want your feedback (include your full name).