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The Basics of Business History: 100 Events That Shaped a Century

THE TSC TIMELINE
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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.

No. 51
Photo credit: CORBIS/Bettman
Here follows 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.

No. 99
Photo credit: CORBIS/David H. Wells
For instance, when Microsoft (MSFT) licensed MS-DOS to IBM (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.

No. 14
Photo credit: CORBIS/Bettman
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).

Monday, May 10: Nos. 100 to 81

Tuesday, May 11: Nos. 80 to 61

Wednesday, May 12: Nos. 60 to 41

Thursday, May 13: Nos. 40 to 21

Friday, May 14: Nos. 20 to 1

You can also view a chronological list of TSC's Countdown and a numerical list .

No. 58
Photo credit: CORBIS/Bettman
TSC's Countdown was conceived, coordinated and overseen by Senior Writers Jesse Eisinger and Alex Berenson, Staff Reporter Katherine Hobson and Markets Editor John J. Edwards III. Some items were written by George Mannes, Cory Johnson, Aaron L. Task and Gregg Wirth. Production Editor Jacqueline Waters, Graphic Designers Paula Wood and Roger Spence and Production Assistant Michael Podrazik created and coordinated the graphical elements. Associate Editor Ellen Leventry and Assistant Editor Laura Poynter handled interactive features. Copy Editor Jennifer Howze and Executive Editor Jamie Heller contributed sharp-eyed editing.

TSC consulted with academic experts for advice on the Countdown and would like to thank R. Douglas Hurt, editor of Agricultural History; Michael Lehmann, professor of economics at the University of San Francisco; Austin Kerr, professor of history at Ohio State University; Ed Perkins, professor emeritus of history at the University of Southern California; Christine Rosen, associate professor of history and public policy at the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley; and Chris Sterling of George Washington University.

We retain responsibility for all errors, however (and will take credit for all the good stuff).

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