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
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.
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.
may have gotten to the top of Everest first, but
down. The century is riddled with brilliant inventions and wonderful entrepreneurial ideas. Few were seminal.
For instance, when
and when IBM let the PC clones license the operating system on their own,
company became the
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,
DC-3, is on the list; the
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
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. We want your
feedback (include your full name), and we'll present a sampling later this week. And please join two of the authors, Senior Writers Alex Berenson and Jesse Eisinger, for a
chat about the Countdown on
at 3 p.m. EDT Friday.
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
Countdown and a numerical list.
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.
consulted with academic experts for advice on the Countdown and would like to thank R. Douglas Hurt, editor of
; 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
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).