Skip to main content

40 More Critical Moments In American Business History

May 2024
2min read

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.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.