Friday, January 29, 2016

Forty Years After: The Fortune 500, 1976

Forty years ago, the 1976 version of the Fortune 500 appeared in Fortune's nearly-2 lb., 350-page May issue.  The list itself turned 21 that year, and along  with its ads and articles, painted a vivid picture of business in a long ago world.  

Just how far back was 1976?  Well, young entrepreneurial hotshots like Jack Dorsey (Twitter and Square) and Travis Kalanick (Uber) were both born that year, but so too was old, decrepit  Peyton Manning.  That contrast, I think, defines 1976 as "early middle age."

Those of you alive then might remember the Bicentennial celebration, held in the midst of a pretty rough decade.  The elite 500 itself had taken a beating in 1975; “gripped by recession,” the editors wrote, “the 500 suffered the most severe earnings drop in seventeen years.”  

Exxon ($44.8B) was the largest industrial in America in 1976, followed by General Motors, Texaco, Ford Motor, Mobil Oil and Standard Oil of California.  This was the fossil fuel economy in living color.  Tech first appeared in 7th position with International Business Machines ($14.4B) followed by Gulf Oil, General Electric and Chrysler.  Of the next five positions, three were also oil companies.  


Incidentally, the top 10 Fortune 500 companies last year included three oil companies and two automotive—perhaps not so different 40 years later.  Apple had replaced IBM as the only tech.