Two years ago, we created animated charts showing the change in America’s largest companies, first by size (revenues), then by profits, market capitalizations, and number of employees.  The new Fortune magazine “Fortune 500” list of the biggest public companies was recently released, so we are updating our charts.

In this new chart below (also available as a video with music), showing the change in the 25 largest (by revenues) American public companies over the last 28 years, you can see fundamental changes in the structure of our economy and industries.  The charts can be paused and moved at your own rate using the timeline at the bottom of the chart.  There is also a chart showing the top 50 at the bottom.  (We will update charts on profits, market cap, and employment in coming weeks.)

At the start, in 1994, the two largest US public companies were General Motors and Ford.  In the last year reported, 2021, those two are at the bottom of our top 25 list. This reflects the broader trend in our economy: the decline of industrial companies as we increasingly become a service economy.

In 1994, the largest retailers were Walmart, Sears, and Kmart.  Today Sears and Kmart are gone; Walmart is the largest company in the world, and Costco, Home Depot, and Kroger are the runners-up among bricks-and-mortar retailers.

Watch Enron rise in 2000-2001, then crash hard in 2002 as the company self-destructed.

From 2004 to 2009, the big banks and financial services companies take on center stage, then drop precipitously by 2015 after the big mortgage fiasco.

From 2007 to 2014, you can see “big oil” rise to the top of the ranks, then descend quickly thereafter.  Their revenues and profits rise and fall with the volatility of world oil prices.  They are up again now.

In 2015, Amazon first joins the list, and is then rapidly headed for the top.  It looks like they might catch Walmart in the next couple of years.

Yet the most important change, driven by demographics, is the fact that there were no healthcare or health insurance companies in the top 25 in 1994.  In 2021, they take up 8 spots, more than any other industry and twice as many as the 4 representatives of “Tech.”

What will the future bring?  Some industries like oil and car making will rise and fall, but our aging population should keep the health companies up there, perhaps joined in the future by pharmaceutical companies.

After the top 25 chart, we have included a top 50 chart, which requires scrolling to see all 50 companies.  It shows a broader range of industries.

Please enjoy and share!

Gary Hoover
Executive Director
American Business History Center



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