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This Month in Business History

First Fortune 500 List Published

Anthony Angle, photographer. Woman reading inside newsstand. 1953. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

One perennial question people have is what the biggest companies are. Sometimes people are looking want their list for a particular industry or state. Sometimes they are looking for the biggest companies in the United States in a particular year. Often the question is harder to answer than they think.

One of the oldest regularly published lists of the biggest companies in the United States is the Fortune 500. This list was first published in the May 1955 edition of Fortune and was based on the company revenue figures. That year the top companies were General Motors, Jersey Standard, U.S. Steel, General Electric, Esmark, Chrysler, Armour, Gulf Oil, Mobil and DuPont.

For those looking for the rankings before 1955, there have been a few modern retrospective lists and some industry publications published their own rankings – often though their annual directory volumes or major trade magazines. For example, the old Polk banking directories published a list of Top 300 Banks starting in the 1940 annual directory and the AM Best had a list in their annual Property/Casualty (or Casualty Surety & Misc) edition.

Since then other magazines like Forbes created their own list in 1959, have begun to create their own top lists. Today, Fortune now has other top lists – Global 500, Future 50, 100 Fastest-Growing Companies, and others.

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