The Basics of Business History: Nos. 80 to 61
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80. Intelsat 1 goes into service: June 28, 1965.
The first commercial communications satellite, nicknamed Early Bird, introduces live commercial television across oceans. Years later this wonderful technology would mean we could share the O.J. trial -- live! -- with our friends in Yemen.
79. Maiman unveils the first working laser: July 1960.
Building on the work of a bunch of other guys, Theodore Maiman's creation paves the way for multiple innovations, including high-quality printing, new forms of surgery, fiber-optic communications, bar-code scanners, CDs and laser tag.
78. The Black Monday crash: Oct. 19, 1987.
|Cancel the order for the Bolivian marching powder.|
|Photo credit: CORBIS/Bettmann|
77. MCI is authorized to compete with AT&T: 1971.MCI, founded in 1968, receives FCC approvals in 1969 that let the company build its first microwave route and interconnect with local phone companies. But the upstart scores its big breakthrough in 1971, when MCI (today subsumed into MCI WorldCom (WCOM)) becomes the first company authorized to compete with AT&T (T) in the domestic private line market.
76. Bernays lights the 'Torches of Liberty': March 31, 1929.In 1928, George Washington Hill of American Tobacco comes to public relations master Edward L. Bernays with a problem: Public smoking by women is taboo, and the untapped market potential is maddening. Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, consults a psychoanalyst to divine what might lead ladies to light up outdoors. The answer, in these just-past-suffrage days: Appeal to their desire for freedom and equality. Bernays has his secretary quietly orchestrate a debutante demonstration at New York's 1929 Easter Parade: Young women of good breeding boldly fire up cancer sticks and puff away as they stroll Fifth Avenue. The effort, known as the "Torches of Liberty" or "Torches of Freedom" march, boosts sales of American's Lucky Strikes and reinforces the power of PR. Years later Bernays would put his PR skills to work against tobacco, disavowing Hill. But the damage was done: Flackery and cigarettes were big business and would stay that way.
75. The explosion of RCA's stock epitomizes market mania: 1928-29.The Internet stock party of recent months wouldn't be the first time that stocks in a promising new technology have acted maniacally. Early in 1928, Radio Corp. of America is selling for 85 1/4. But over the next year and a half, it begins a dizzying climb. It hits 200 in May; 400 in November; 500 the following summer. After a 5-for-1 split, it rises even further, to the presplit equivalent of 573 3/4. It is probably the most pronounced symbol of excess of the bull market of the '20s. And guess what: It wouldn't be in business 70 years later. When RCA and other stocks plunge below pre-1928 levels, it puts the fear of stocks in Americans. Investors turn to safer investments like bonds and, eventually, federally insured bank accounts and certificates of deposit. It would take a younger generation who knew not Joseph, unscarred by the crash and egged on by the great bull market of the 1980s and 1990s, to erase the troubling memory of the 1920s bubble. That younger generation would learn that everything's different now, because there's a new economy and all.
74. AOL goes to flat-rate pricing: Oct. 29, 1996.America Online's (AOL) move away from rates based on the amount of time spent online to pay-one-price charging is a crucial step toward the now-dominant view of the Internet as an advertising-driven mass medium.
73. FDR signs the act creating the Federal Housing Administration: June 1934.With innovations like the 30-year self-amortizing mortgage, the Federal Housing Administration puts the power of the federal government behind home financing, helping to make home ownership a reality for tens of millions of Americans and powering the residential real estate industry.
72. Rosie the Riveter and FEPC: Women and minorities contribute to the war effort: 1941-45.
|But only 'til the boys come home.|
|Source: National Archives|
71. Black and Scholes introduce their options pricing model in the Journal of Political Economy: May/June 1973.Fischer Black and Myron Scholes of the University of Chicago devise a pricing model that establishes a standard by which options can be priced. Until Black-Scholes, traders and investors have been pretty much guessing. The model figures out a way to measure the volatility of the underlying instrument and its erosion of value over time. Black-Scholes adds enough credibility to pricing to make options -- and later more complex derivatives -- legitimate, liquid instruments for all sorts of institutional investors, ranging from Goldman Sachs to Barings' Nick Leeson.
70. Federal Express begins operations: April 1973.Before Federal Express, today a unit of FDX (FDX), mail delivery is the sole province of the federal government. Options for overnight, cross-country delivery range from telexing to getting on a plane documents in hand. FedEx and other overnight delivery companies revolutionize business in the U.S., allowing both corporate chieftains and average schmoes to reach heretofore unseen heights of procrastination.
69. The government bails out Chrysler: Jan. 7, 1980.
|Chrysler pays its debt to society.|
|Photo credit: CORBIS/Bettman|
68. President Johnson's Texas-sized spending spurs domestic inflation: 1960s.Guns? Butter? Guns? Butter? Hell, I'll take both! Lyndon Johnson's effort to conduct a war in Vietnam and a War on Poverty at the same time causes inflation to triple from 1.9% in 1965 to 6.2% four years later. The price hikes give Americans their first taste of the double-digit inflation that would follow a decade later.
67. Cohen and Boyer pioneer recombinant DNA techniques: 1973.Herbert Boyer, a University of California at San Francisco biochemist, and Stanley Cohen, a Stanford University geneticist, slip a gene from an African clawed toad into a bacterium. The transplanted gene starts producing protein inside the bacterium, proving that simple organisms could be called upon to become protein "factories." The discovery is recombinant DNA, the first time the stuff of life is taken from its natural place and artificially inserted into another piece of DNA. The biotech industry is born. Stanford and UCSF see the discovery as a money-making opportunity. In the years to come, the universities would license the process to dozens of companies, reaping millions of dollars. Science, the academy, medicine and the corporation would be inexorably entwined from then on. Boyer, stricken with the Silicon Valley bug, would go on to help found the first biotech company, South San Francisco's Genentech (GNE). Genentech in 1982 would win the first approval for a genetically engineered protein, human growth hormone, giving hope to short kids everywhere that their hoop dreams might be realized.
66. Alfred Sloan becomes president of General Motors: 1923.At the beginning of the 1920s, General Motors (GM) is nearly bankrupt and Ford (F) has nearly 60% market share. But then Alfred P. Sloan comes along. He brings discipline to the far-flung company, actually doing some planning, strategizing and organizing. And he would manage, over his decades at the helm, to master market segmentation, selling Chevrolets to Joe Sixpacks and Caddys to the upper crust and, later, pimps. By targeting sales, the company avoids internal competition, a strategy that enables GM to bypass Ford as the No. 1 car maker. Sloan's revitalized GM establishes decentralized management, with division heads given the freedom to come up with their own ideas. Almost 80 years later, no large company would go untouched by Sloan's decentralization concept.
65. The CCITT Group 3 recommendation for facsimile machines is adopted: 1980.The fax alone doesn't speed up the pace of American business -- after all, the first facsimile was patented in the mid-19th century. What changes things is the fax standard -- an international committee's adoption of specs for fax machines. Finally, offices know that if they buy a Brand X fax machine, they can send documents in a matter of minutes to a Brand Y machine across the country. Once hooked on speed -- we're talking about the pace of business here, not the drug -- companies can't give it up. And so, getting the job done fast, faster and fastest would become an unshakeable part of American business. With the innovation of email, faxing would seem to take forever. And a T1 line becomes a must. Business and the markets would speed up to match communication technology. Stock-market corrections would begin in the morning and be over by noon. Jay Goulds (and Gatsbys) would mint money instantly. On Internet time, companies would not only achieve stellar success but also flame out in a fraction of the time it took previous generations to build empires.
64. Nasdaq gets its first blue-sky exemption: Dec. 6, 1984.By the mid-1980s, the upstart Nasdaq National Market System, run by the National Association of Securities Dealers, is pretty well sick of being called an upstart. Nasdaq wants to play on the same lucrative and prestigious field as the New York Stock Exchange. One key to level competition for Nasdaq is gaining exemptions from the so-called blue-sky laws, state-by-state regulations governing what securities can be sold to state residents. While NYSE and American Stock Exchange stocks have automatic exemptions, Nasdaq issues have to endure arduous registration processes in the various states. That starts to change in December 1984, when Georgia becomes the first state to grant Nasdaq stocks the same treatment granted to the older exchanges' issues. Many states would follow suit. By the mid-1990s, giant companies such as Microsoft (MSFT) and Intel (INTC) would turn down the Big Board's entreaties and stay on the formerly small-cap-only Nasdaq. The Amex would become such a shell of its former self that the NASD would effortlessly swallow it in 1998. But the ascendancy of the Nasdaq would prove to be more than just a story of competition between stock markets. In giving a legitimate trading forum to entrepreneurial start-ups with little operating history and continuing losses, the Nasdaq would contribute to the "venture capitalization" of the country. These companies would be volatile and orders-of-magnitude riskier than many NYSE listings. But many individual investors would seize the chance to live entrepreneurial lives vicariously, seeking to discover -- and strike it rich on -- companies that go from the garage to the Fortune 500.
63. Frances Kelsey blocks the U.S. approval of thalidomide: 1961.Worried about its potential for side effects, Food and Drug Administration medical officer Dr. Frances Kelsey delays the application for approval of thalidomide, a sleeping pill that later turns out to cause serious birth defects. Her action leads to the overhaul of the FDA and a tightening -- a creation, really -- of drug approval standards that live today. Not only would the overhaul bring regulation to the enormous and powerful pharmaceutical industry, it would haul the drugmakers into the modern era, forcing them to conduct scientifically rigorous clinical trials.
62. Benjamin Graham's Security Analysis is published: 1934."Margin of safety." Mull those words. Now apply them to your stock portfolio. Benjamin Graham would have wanted it that way. Born Benjamin Grossbaum in London in 1894, Graham emigrates to America with his family a year later. By 1934, he's teaching evening classes to Depression-wearied business students at New York's Columbia University and joins fellow prof David L. Dodd in writing the seminal guide to value investing, Security Analysis. Graham's bracingly simple philosophy hinges on those three little words, margin of safety. That means you buy stocks trading at a significant discount to their intrinsic value. To be extra safe, you buy stocks worth at least 50% more than they cost. You skip the high price-to-earnings ratios, the swollen price-to-book ratios. Graham popularizes the concept of valuation, and value, as guiding forces of investing. The much-married, womanizing Graham's prudence (at least in finance) would inspire many to follow his teachings, perhaps most famously Warren Buffett, the billionaire Nebraskan more closely associated with the word oracle than Larry Ellison. Value investing would remain in sharp conflict with the headlong, and lately vastly profitable, chase after growth at all costs, but millions of investors would be more than content with the minimized risks and steady rewards of the Graham way.
61. Hoover Dam is completed: March 1, 1936.The greatest American engineering feat of the century, Hoover Dam harnesses the power of the Colorado River and opens up the Southwest for major settlement and development.
|It's really big.|
|Photo credit: CORBIS/Robert Holmes|
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