Established 1837, Grand Detour, Ill. Since 2000: Up 350% Since 1990: Up 1640% Founded as a manufacturer of plows by the Vermont-born blacksmith John Deere, the company made a brief ill-fated foray into the bicycle business in the 1890s. During the Depression, Deere claims never to have repossessed equipment sold with financing to farmers made destitute by the economic collapse. The product for which the company is most famous -- the tractor -- wasn't developed by Deere ( DE) at all. It came to the company via the perspicacious acquisition of the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co. in 1918. To this day, most of Deere's rolling agricultural machines are assembled at its Waterloo Works factory in Waterloo, Iowa.
Established 1901, Chicago Since 2000: Up 50% Since 1990: Up 1,660% The country's biggest drugstore chain got its start in a corner store on the South Side of Chicago. The company's explosive growth between the wars was fueled in part by pharmacist-founder Charles Walgreen's business ambitions, and in part by his decision to sell bootleg whiskey under the counters of his stores during Prohibition.
4. Tiffany & Co.
Established 1837, New York Since 2000: Up 120% Since 1990: Up 1,735% Merchant of "fancy goods" since 1837 -- the same year Procter teamed up with Gamble and John Deere sold his first plow -- Tiffany's ( TIF) founder Charles Lewis Tiffany is said to have published the country's first retail catalog in 1845. He was also marked by the legendary con artist Philip Arnold, who persuaded the jewelry magnate in 1872 to invest in what turned out to be a fake California diamond mine.
Established 1910, East Peoria, Ill. Since 2000: Up 500% Since 1990: Up 2,100% Benjamin Holt built his first steam tractor in California to service the fast-growing farming community in the Central Valley there, but the move to Illinois, plus World War I -- which drove the company's transformation into a builder of equipment for use beyond farming -- created the company we know today as Caterpillar ( CAT).
Established 1806, Jersey City, N.J. Since 2000: up 72% Since 1990: up 2,380% Founded by the British-born chandler William Colgate on the Hudson riverfront, the company made its destiny in the last decade of the nineteenth century. That's when the Colgate Co. ( CL) "borrowed" the idea of putting toothpaste into special collapsible tubes from a Connecticut dentist named Washington Wentworth Sheffield. Mass production began in 1896, and the toothpaste boom was on.
1 Johnson Controls
Established 1885, Milwaukee Since 2000: Up 370% Since 1990: Up 3,200% Inventor of the thermostat, this least-known of 100-plus-year-old companies has performed incredibly in recent years. Give thanks to Johnson Controls ( JCI), all ye who've grown accustomed to room temperature: Without this Wisconsin industrial giant, there would be no such thing as modern indoor climate control. >>To see these stocks in action, visit the 10 Vintage Stocks Worth a Fortune portfolio on Stockpickr. -- Written by Scott Eden in New York >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Scott Eden. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/ScottEden. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: email@example.com.