Welcome to Part 2 of Countdown: A Century of U.S. Business, featuring entries 80 through 61.
is counting down the top 100 U.S. business events of the 20th century, from least to beast (or something like that). Read rankings on Nos. 100 to 81; for more about the weeklong series, see our introduction. Disagree with an entry? Shoot us an email using the form below. Or take it up with two of the authors, Senior Writers Alex Berenson and Jesse Eisinger, in a chat on Yahoo! at 3 p.m. EDT Friday.
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
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,
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.
Really just a bump in the night.
Dow Jones Industrial Average
drops 508 points, a stunning 22.6%, on "Black Monday," raising fears that the U.S. economy is headed for a severe recession, or even a depression. But the
acts quickly to cut interest rates and pump cash into the banking system, helping end the threat. Little over a decade later, the slide would be remembered as not much more than a chance for investors to buy on one of history's biggest dips.
77. MCI is authorized to compete with AT&T: 1971.
, founded in 1968, receives
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
) becomes the first company authorized to compete with
in the domestic private line market.
76. Bernays lights the 'Torches of Liberty': March 31, 1929.
In 1928, George Washington Hill of
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
, 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
and reinforces the power of PR. Years later Bernays would put his PR skills to work
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.
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.
World War II puts a quick end to the high unemployment levels of the Depression, as most non-flat-footed young men abandon their plowshares for guns. Women take factory jobs previously reserved for men, making
Rosie the Riveter
into a feminist and patriotic icon. And under pressure from civil rights leader and union president
A. Philip Randolph
in 1941 issues an executive order banning race discrimination by the feds and government contractees and creates the
Fair Employment Practices Committee
to enforce the rule, helping blacks to get previously unavailable jobs.
But civil rights progress would stall after the war as men returned from the front: Women would be laid off from their jobs and urged to return to the kitchen and play their part in the baby boom, while
would refuse to renew the FEPC.
71. Black and Scholes introduce their options pricing model in the Journal of Political Economy: May/June 1973.
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
70. Federal Express begins operations: April 1973.
, today a unit of
, 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.
signs the Chrysler Loan Guarantee Act, offering the troubled automaker $1.5 billion in federal support. One of the few useful pieces of corporate welfare ever enacted, the guarantees helped pull
(now a unit of
) through a severe recession, saving tens of thousands of jobs. The company would pay back the loans in 1983, seven years ahead of schedule. But the bailout wouldn't create the great moral hazard critics feared, since most big companies would either straighten up and fly right or, like
, be allowed to go bankrupt.
68. President Johnson's Texas-sized spending spurs domestic inflation: 1960s.
Guns? Butter? Guns? Butter? Hell, I'll take both!
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.
University of California at San Francisco
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 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,
is nearly bankrupt and
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
to Joe Sixpacks and
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
-- 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.
) 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
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
63. Frances Kelsey blocks the U.S. approval of thalidomide: 1961.
Worried about its potential for side effects,
Food and Drug Administration
Dr. Frances Kelsey
delays the application for approval of
, 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.
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
and joins fellow prof David L. Dodd in writing the seminal guide to value investing,
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
, 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
, the billionaire Nebraskan more closely associated with the word oracle than
. 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.
Coming Wednesday: In Part 3, entries 60 through 41, some air traffic controllers are shown the door, meat turns out to be murder and the world buys a Coke, like it or not
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