It was 1955, the year Disneyland opened and Ray Kroc sold his first hamburger. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were born that year.
And it was in 1955 that Fortune magazine published the very first Fortune 500 list.
It's an annual compilation of America's 500 largest companies, its changing roster reflecting the current economic climate.
"Everything that happens in business in the United States shows up in one way or another in the 500," said Carol Loomis, Fortune's senior editor-at-large. "It's a mirror to the economy."
Since 1955, more than 2,000 companies have earned a spot on the list, but in 55 years only three have achieved the number one slot: General Motors, ExxonMobil and Wal-Mart.
Originally, the list only included industrial corporations. The top 10 in 1955 included DuPont, U.S. Steel and Gulf Oil. But by 1995 it was clear that America had shifted to a service economy, and corporations like AT&T and financial giants like Citicorp were included.
"It's amazing how many companies that are today on the list didn't even exist when we first started the list," said Loomis ¡ companies like Microsoft, Wal-Mart, Costco and Google.
… And that brings us to a first-look at THIS year's list, which we're pleased to reveal this morning with thanks to our friends at Fortune Magazine.
Read it ... and weep.
2008 was the worst year in the history of the Fortune 500 for America's largest companies.
From $645 billion in profits in 2007, profits dropped this year to just $98.9 billion - an 84.7 percent decline!
Records were broken: Eleven of the top 25 largest corporate losses in list history took place last year.
The biggest loser of them all: Insurance giant AIG. The company posted a $99.3 billion loss. But it's still on the list ("too big to fail" indeed!). It's ranked at number 245, down from number 13 just one year earlier.
Thirty-eight companies disappeared from the list altogether. Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers may be no surprise, but it was also "last call" for brewer Anheuser Busch.
And the bubble burst for gum maker William Wrigley Jr.
… Making room for fashionable newcomers like Polo Ralph Lauren. And (perhaps a sign of our need for retail therapy) Visa and Mastercard are also Fortune first-timers.
Of course, they rank far behind ExxonMobil which, boosted by higher gas prices, motored past Wal-Mart to arrive at the coveted number one spot.
Speaking of life at the top, 15 women ran Fortune 500 companies in 2008m an all-time high.
They're among the ranks of 25.6 million Americans working (or, who used to work!) for the nation's largest companies.
That's one out of every six of us.
This year's Top 20 companies, with rank, revenues and profits, +/- (in millions) are:
1. Exxon Mobil (442,851.0; 45,220.0)
2. Wal-Mart Stores (405,607.0; 13,400.0)
3. Chevron (263,159.0; 23,931.0)
4. ConocoPhillips (230,764.0; -16,998.0)
5. General Electric (183,207.0; 17,410.0)
6. General Motors (148,979.0; -30,860.0)
7. Ford Motor (146,277.0; -14,672.0)
8. AT&T (124,028.0; 12,867.0)
9. Hewlett-Packard (118,364.0; 8,329.0)
10. Valero Energy (118,298.0; -1,131.0)
11. Bank of America Corp. (113,106.0; 4,008.0)
12. Citigroup (112,372.0; -27,684.0)
13. Berkshire Hathaway (107,786.0; 4,994.0)
14. International Business Machines (103,630.0; 12,334.0)
15. McKesson (101,703.0; 990.0)
16. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (101,491.0; 5,605.0)
17. Verizon Communications (97,354.0; 6,428.0)
18. Cardinal Health (91,091.4; 1,300.6)
19. CVS Caremark (87,471.9; 3,212.1)
20. Procter & Gamble (83,503.0; 12,075.0)
The full details of this year's Fortune 500, appearing in the May 4 issue of Fortune Magazine, can be found on their Web site.
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