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40 More Critical Moments In American Business History

June 2020

1. 1606: The Virginia Company is formed to seek profit from a new business: American settlement.

2. 1612: John Rolfe plants West Indian tobacco in Virginia, the cash crop that assures the colony’s success.

3. 1614: John Smith, finding no gold, sets his men to fishing for cod off New England, pointing the way to the area’s first economic mainstay.

4. 1619: The first blacks arrive in Virginia as indentured servants. Within a few decades slavery becomes the dominant labor system in the South.

5. 1626: The Dutch settle Manhattan, founding the most commercially minded city on earth.

6. 1646: Saugus Iron Works begins operation in Massachusetts, the first major American industrial enterprise.

7. 1652: The first pine tree shilling is minted, giving Massachusetts a reliable money supply.

8. 1784: Thomas Jefferson designs the American currency system, the first decimal money in the world.

9. 1789: Samuel Slater immigrates to New England from the English Midlands, carrying in his head the plans for textile machinery, and becomes “the father of American manufactures.”

10. 1792: A group of brokers sign the Buttonwood Agreement, origin of the New York Stock Exchange.

11. 1807: Robert Fulton demonstrates the first practical steamboat.

12. 1818: The Black Ball Line starts the first regularly scheduled ocean passenger service.

13. 1828: Construction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad begins.

14. 1832: Andrew Jackson vetoes the charter renewal of the Second Bank of the United States, and the country will not have a central bank until 1913.

15. 1835: James Gordon Bennett founds the New York Herald and creates the mass media.

16. 1837–43: The first major depression in the United States.

17. 1840: Cyrus McCormick sells his first reaper, beginning the mechanization of agriculture.

18. 1844: Samuel F. B. Morse demonstrates his telegraph, which will revolutionize the speed of communications.

19. 1848: Gold is discovered in California, moving the country’s economic center of gravity sharply westward while setting off an economic boom.

20. 1857–58: The second major depression occurs.

21. 1861–65: The Civil War takes place. It will vastly enlarge the size of the federal government and the national debt, making Wall Street the second-largest securities market in the world, after London, and greatly boosts American industrial production.

22. 1872: Andrew Carnegie visits a steel mill in England and decides to go into steel. By 1900 the Carnegie Steel Company produces a quarter of all American steel.

23. 1873–79: The third major depression occurs.

24. 1879: Thomas Edison perfects the light bulb and begins designing a system to supply households and businesses with electricity, inaugurating the age of electricity.

25. 1887: The Interstate Commerce Commission is created, the first federal regulatory body.

26. 1893–98: The fourth major depression occurs.

27. 1901: United States Steel is organized by J. P. Morgan, in the largest of a wave of mergers that sweeps the American economy beginning in the 1890s.

28. 1903: The Wright Brothers’ first airplane takes off from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, inaugurating the air age.

29. 1907: A panic on Wall Street, aborted by J. P. Morgan, shows the need for a central bank, which is created six years later.

30. 1911: Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey v. United States is decided, forcing the breakup of the company under the Sherman Antitrust Act.

31. 1913: Personal income tax begins.

32. 1914: World War I starts, and the United States emerges as the center of the financial world, replacing London.

33. 1920: Commercial radio broadcasts commence, inaugurating the age of electronic media.

34. 1929–33: The fifth, and by far the worst, major depression occurs.

35. 1946: ENIAC, the first digital computer, begins operation.

36. 1947: The transistor is developed. It will greatly reduce the size and cost of electronic equipment.

37. 1951: The credit card is invented, expanding the availability of credit to the middle class.

38. 1968: The first four computers are hooked together into what will become the Internet.

39. 1975: “May Day” marks the end of fixed commissions on Wall Street, which will cause a huge, ongoing expansion in trading as the cost of trading rapidly declines.

40. 1977: The Apple II is introduced, and the era of the personal computer begins.

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