An updated 2023 version of this chart can be seen here.

(Our original post listed this as the 25 highest profit companies but should have said 20 highest profit companies.)

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.  Last week we presented a chart of the largest companies by revenues, this week we’ve added a chart of the highest profit companies.

In this new chart below (also available as a video with music), showing the change in the 20 highest dollar profit American public companies over the last 28 years, you can see fundamental changes in the structure of our economy and industries.  The chart can be paused and moved at your own rate using the timeline at the bottom of the chart.  (We will update charts on market cap and employment in coming weeks.)

You can see that profits fluctuate up and down more rapidly than the revenues we showed last week.

The oil companies, the banks, the car makers have all had their place in the sun before the more recent rise of the big tech companies.

In reviewing these numbers remember that dollar profits alone do not tell you how profitable these companies are, because they have different levels of investment.  A dollar profit figure may look big, but relative to the amount invested in the company, it might be small.

For example, in 2021 ExxonMobil made a profit of $23 Billion, about the same as Pfizer’s $22 Billion.  But Pfizer only required $181 Billion in assets to earn that much money, whereas ExxonMobil needed $340 Billion in assets to earn the same level of profit.  Profitability is best measured as Return on Investment (see this article for details).

For more on profits, the role they play in society and our shared future, and common misunderstandings about them, please read this.

Please enjoy and share!

Gary Hoover

Executive Director

American Business History Center


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