America's Top 50 Companies (1917-2017)

A century of creative destruction

Published: Oct 31, 2017

g_100599_warren_buffett_280x210.jpgWarren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, one of the six largest companies by market value in 2017, even existed in 1967
Image: Lee Balterman/ The LIFE Images Collection/ Getty Images

It is impossible to read this ranking of the nation’s largest firms over the past century without a sense of awe. The US economy regularly creates new business behemoths, then ruthlessly strikes them down. In the wake of this creative destruction come new jobs, wealth, industries and innovation.

With the exception of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, none of the six largest companies by market value in 2017 even existed in 1967; three of them are less than 25 years old. Only two entities from the original Forbes list from 1917—AT&T and General Electric—survived the century operating under their own names, and one was famously broken up by the government in 1984.

Also striking is the democratisation of the gains. A century ago, many of the country’s largest concerns were trusts (or their descendants), controlled by monopoly-seeking Wall Street financiers. Today’s list, by contrast, is dominated by familiar brands that populate the average investor’s 401(k): Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Bank of America and, of course, Apple.

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(This story appears in the 10 November, 2017 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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