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TheStreet Open House

Readers Talk Back: 100 Events That Shaped a Century of U.S. Business

We asked readers to tell us what they thought about the selections in our countdown of the 100 biggest business events in this century. If you have feedback please send it to letters@thestreet.com .

Here's what they had to say:


Highways the number one business event of the century? Please! My choice is the 1929 market crash and the ensuing depression. Without that depression, no Franklin Roosevelt in office, no liberals thereafter, no Adolph Hitler in Germany, no World War II, no Dwight D. Eisenhower to travel the German highways.

Without that market crash and depression, which still lives in the psyche of the American public, all the world's history would have been different. And no one, not one in government or academia or business saw it coming. Perhaps that's why you can't see it as the No. 1 business event of this century.

-- Charles Belida (received 5/14)


I didn't see birth control listed. Isn't the development of oral contraceptives, the launching of the sexual revolution and the epidemic of divorce that followed -- never mind the questioning of all that was held dear in American society as well as business -- a key business event of the century?

Or am I missing something here?

-- David Lilienfeld (received 5/14)


I believe the West's victory in the Cold War should be in the Top 10.

-- David Auyeung (received 5/14)


I had guessed that Intel/microprocessor would be first or second, but I thought ARPA would be more prominent in their role of founding the Internet.

-- Bill Groscup (received 5/14)


WHAT!?!?!? The interstate as #1? Over silicon, the microprocessor??? Come on guys...

-- Jeff Lin (received 5/14)


In my opinion, the five most important events of the 20th century are as follows.

  • Michael Milken's emergence on the scene. He is hated by most people, because he beat them at a game that he invented and they couldn't play. When history is rewritten in 100 years, he will go down as the greatest financial mind of this century.

  • Federal Reserve's creation in 1913. It is becoming more important every year because it is probably one of the few agencies that is not controlled by politics. God help us if it ever was. Would have been higher if not for its mismanagement of the Crash of '29 and subsequent depression.

  • Interstate highway system. You've said what needs to be said.

  • The creation of the GI Bill. America and probably the rest of the world was heading for the dark ages after WWII. There was nothing to do for a large number of people returning from the war. This bill allowed America to educate its population and created the boom of the middle class. Harry S. Truman gets all of the credit.

  • Finally, the Presidency of Ronald Wilson Reagan. He was elected when America was a dying nation. A nation on the ropes. He resurrected this nation and gave it new hope. No matter how he did it -- he did. His legacy still lives on and all Bill Clinton has been doing is minding the store.

    Without these five events, everything else would have probably never happened.

    -- Thomas R. Gasper (received 5/14)


    You say the biggest contribution Reagan gave to history was his huge deficits, which led to high interest rates and falling wages. How exactly was this beneficial, making us all want to be Republicans?



    -- Jerry Harris (received 5/14)


    I would certainly rank Mike Milken much higher -- top 20 for his influence on financing key startups in cable, wireless, and undoubtedly, if he had been left alone, the Internet. Also top 20, New York City's Mayor Giuliani foolishly pursuing Milken and the resulting temporary cave-in of the junk bond market.

    -- Richard London (received 5/12)


    Missing: NBC stops coverage of a Raiders/Jets football game to show Heidi, cutting off an audience from one of the greatest comebacks of all time. Never again will a broadcaster stop coverage of a football game to show a movie.

    -- Michael K. Thomas


    I'm glad somebody else can't drive 55. Was Sammy really driving in 1975? The oil embargo and the 55 mph speed limit turned what used to be a one-day trip into a boring driving marathon. Did it really save much oil? I wonder what the true economic impact of the lower speed was?

    -- Maris Eshleman (received 5/12)


    The fall of the Berlin Wall was indeed a landmark event that marked the death of socialism (theory and practice). Why then was it necessary for you to add the morally relativistic sentence, "For better and worse, American, and capitalistic values would follow." In what way is the advent of capitalism "worse" for the inhabitants of Eastern Europe?

    -- Nicholas Kaster (received 5/12)


    There were some important developments in human consciousness, science, etc. that are entirely missing from your account and that clearly affect the economic mentality of our time and in particular the individual investor revolution currently upon us. Some mention of these non-economic events, albeit without elaboration, would be wise.

    -- Sal Liriano (received 5/12)


    Please, can't we get rid of the canard that QDOS was a Microsoft product! It was not. Bill Gates licensed it from somebody else. Try to learn the unbelievably serendipitous series of events that led to making Mr. Gates the richest, and also the luckiest and most overrated, man alive.

    -- Douglas Latto (received 5/12)


    I was involved in IBM's 360 computer launch in '64-65 -- truly a top 40 item since it was the beginning.

    -- James Senior (received 5/12)


    Ralph Nader sank the Chevrolet Corvair! I had three of them and loved them. I still stick pins in my Ralph Nader doll every night.

    -- Roy Nunn (received 5/12)


    A major event, that may come later on your list, is the Tylenol tampering in the '80s. As a consequence we now have safety seals on peanut butter, tamper bands on milk and live with general fear and paranoia.

    -- Bob Marinellie (received 5/12)


    The AT&T breakup is much more important than #46. Look at the impact on consumers and businesses deciding whom to get phone, cable TV, Internet access, etc. from today! None of that deregulation would have been possible without the breakup.

    Also, what's NASA got to do with business? It's an interesting item, but computer technology grew in its early days because of military uses, not NASA.

    -- James Barrett (received 5/12)


    The U.S. Postal Service strike gave postal employees greater benefits than other federal employees, who generally have a higher level of education. Higher education is what usually commands a higher pay level.

    -- Jack Durham (received 5/12)


    Union Carbide's Bhophal incident in the 1980s. It was the worst chemical accident ever. It led to the gradual breakup of the #2 U.S. chemical company. It also led to many chemical and toxic right-to-know laws in the United States and Europe.

    Exxon Valdez: The worst U.S. environmental disaster. It led to largest U.S. environmental fine and cleanup.

    -- Mike Sellers (recieved 5/12)


    I think the fax machine is way overrated. I would have rather picked Shannon's seminal paper on communication theory dated 1948 (Bell System Technical Journal) that made those modern fax machines, and, of course, high-speed telephone modems, in general, possible.

    -- Robert Egri (received 5/11)


    I remember many of these events rather vividly, especially the crash of '87. I lost a big chunk of my portfolio shortly after I started trading online in 1986. I had to give my stocks back to the broker because they went in the toilet and would have cost more to sell than they were worth. I'll never forget it.

    -- Daniel R. Smith (received 5/11)


    Your choice for number 74 suprises me. ( AOL goes to flat-rate pricing: Oct. 29, 1996.) I couldn't have been the only one in 1996 waiting for the speed of a T1 line into my house and 24-hour-a-day connections to become a reality.

    I thought AOL was a joke back then, and I still think AOL is a joke, albeit a very powerful joke, nonetheless still a joke.

    -- Scott Clark (recieved 5/11)


    Talking about the Great Bull Market of the '20s, particularly 1928-1929 is fine. But Black Tuesday and Thursday were a lot more important in the development of business during the last century than the 1987 crash. A lot more. After all, the Great Depression, which led to the New Deal and the era of big government, the rise of fascism in Europe and Asia. This led ultimately World War II and the Bomb (which I trust you will mention in its own right) are all direct outgrowths of the Crash of '29, and the Great Depression.

    -- David Lilienfeld (received 5/11)


    The Grand Coulee dam is much larger than the Hoover dam. It opened up the Northwest to low electrical prices, which led to Boeing, the aluminum industry and a huge growth in irrigated agriculture. Water supply and distribution and air conditioning were the two main forces in Southwest growth. Why pick one region over another one in highlighting engineering? I would also say the Central Valley Project in California was much more important than the Hoover dam.

    -- Gerald Carlson (received 5/11)


    Having looked at rankings 80 to 100, and not knowing what blockbusters await, I think #86 and #99 might have been ranked a bit higher. If, as you suggest, Three Mile Island spelled the demise of nuclear power for electricity, its impact on the global economy, over a number of years is going to be a lot greater than a #99 ranking would imply.

    -- Richard L. Strain (received 5/11)


    Don't forget about Chester Carlson's invention, the photocopier! This invention changed they way people worked from its introduction. The revolution the copier began with the Haloid Corp.'s first office copier. It was similar to what people without long term memories would say about the office computer revolution.

    When was the last time anyone at TheStreet.com went to buy some carbon paper?

    -- Matt Vidc, Pres. ProCopy, Inc. (received 5/11)


    History is always an interesting subject. As far as what makes your list; that's like horse racing, everybody has their own idea of what to bet on. It's your list, so you get to pick the winners.

    -- Olan Hanley (received 5/10)


    This is great. I see this list will include how IBM gave away the store to Microsoft with DOS. I think this list should also include the second blunder made by IBM with Microsoft -- jointly developing OS2 with MSFT while it was secretly building Windows 3.0. This was a major turning point for Microsoft. They were able to capture the office suite software market pretty much for themselves.

    -- Steve Cheung (received 5/10)


    Nike using the Beatles on this list? I just don't see it. They are the most overrated rock band, this side of the Who. Furthermore, using pop music, even historical rock music, to sell products does not strike me as an incredible event of the century, or even a Nike invention.

    -- P. K. Rafferty (received 5/10)


    I'd think that Henry Ford belonged on the absolute TOP of the list given how pervasive automobiles are in the U.S. culture. Maybe it's because you folks in the city take the train! LOL.

    -- John O'Donnell (received 5/10)


    The divestiture of Ma Bell and her Baby Bells in 1984 seemed to be a major change in American life. Looking at that divestiture from our merger-filled life of today almost gives one a dizzying sense of history.

    -- Marion Dannert (received 5/10)

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