The Original Businesses of Dow Components

Published on by on September 10, 2013 | Updated February 25, 2014

Originally created in 1896, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, often referred to as simply the Dow 30, is designed to measure the performance of the U.S. stock market and is also the basis for State Street’s (DIA, B), which boasts over $11 billion in assets under management. In light of the recent changes announced to take place next week, with Alcoa, Bank of America, and HP leaving the Dow to make room for Nike, Goldman Sachs, and Visa — we take a stroll down memory lane to look back at the original businesses of today’s Dow components. Simply click on any one of the buttons below to reveal which Dow stock was in what line of business at the time that it was originally founded:

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DuPont (DD)

Originally founded in 1802 as a gunpowder mill by Eleuthere Irenee du Pont, today DuPont is one of the biggest chemical manufacturers in the world, both in terms of production as well as revenue. After leaving his home country to escape the French Revolution, Eleuthere started his gunpowder mill, Eleutherian Mills, near Wilmington, Delaware. The company grew quickly and by the mid-1800s it had become the largest supplier of gunpowder to the United States army.

Throughout the years, the company expanded operations into producing dynamite, investing heavily in the automobile industry, and developing new synthetic materials. Today the company is perhaps best described as a global science company and is diversified across many industries, including: agriculture, electronics & communications, industrial biosciences, nutrition & health,  as well as performance chemicals. 

American Express (AXP)

Originally founded in 1850 as an express mail business in Buffalo, New York, today the company is a global financial services juggernaut with one of the most recognizable credit card brands. During its early years, the company enjoyed a monopoly on the movement of express shipments, including goods, securities, and currency; in 1882, American Express expanded into the financial services industry with the launch of a money order business and 100 years later the company boasted an investment banking arm.

American Express released its first credit card in the 1950s and its first “gold card” in 1966, signaling the company’s effort to target business travelers. Today the company boasts an iconic brand among consumers all over the globe and its cards account for roughly one-quarter of the total dollar volume of credit card transactions in America. 

Boeing (BA)

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Originally founded in 1916 as a seaplane manufacturer, today Boeing is among the largest aerospace & defense contractors in the world. William Boeing incorporated the company as “Pacific Aero Products Co.” in Seattle, Washington, taking advantage of the vast lumber supply in the area to build seaplanes. The company shipped seaplanes for training to the Navy during World War I and it became known as the “Boeing Airplane Company.” In 1928, the company’s first passenger plane made its first flight and during World War II it focused production efforts to build B-29 bombers.

By the 1950s the company had developed advanced military jets and in 1970 the first 747 four-engine airliner flew its first commercial flight. Today the company is diversified in the industrial sector across several segments, including: commercial airplanes, military aircraft, and network & space systems. 


Caterpillar Inc. (CAT)

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Caterpillar has origins that trace back to the 1925 merger between the Holt Manufacturing Company and the C.L. Best Tractor Company. The story began in 1904 when Benjamin Holt successfully tested an updated version of the steam tractor which was able to plow through soggy land as he had replaced the wheels with wooden tracks bolted to chains. In 1910, Holt opened up a steam tractor engine factory in East Peoria, Illinois, headed up by his nephew Pliny and 12 other employees. Just a short two years later the company had over 600 employees and was exporting tractors to Mexico, Canada, and Argentina. 

Through 1918 Holt spent over a million dollars in legal fees fighting his biggest competitor, C.L. Best Tractor Company, in court over trademarks and patent infringements. In 1925, the two tractor juggernauts finally merged forming “Caterpillar Tractor Co.” and went onto seriously ramp up production as the Great Depression and World War II spurred demand. Today the company boasts a globally recognized brand operating in several segments, including: manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives.

3M Co. (MMM)

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Originally founded in 1902 as a mining venture between five businessmen in Two Harbors, Minnesota, today 3M is a global conglomerate. The original goal of the founders was to mine corundum, but that failed after it was discovered that the mine’s holdings were anorthosite, which had no commercial value at the time. The company then moved to Duluth and began producing sandpaper products, and became profitable enough to pay dividends in 1916. Soon thereafter, 3M relocated to St. Paul, where it researched, developed, and produced innovative products that have become everyday staples, including: masking tape, waterproof sandpaper, and Scotch brand tapes. 

During the 1950s the company expanded operations worldwide and continued its string of household product releases, notably magnetic tape recorders in the ’70s and Post-It notes in 1980. Today 3M is widely diversified with a presence in the industrial, transport, health care, consumer goods, and communications businesses among many others. 

Nike (NKE)

The story of the most valuable sports brand traces back to 1964 at the University of Oregon. Track athlete Philip Knight and his coach Bill Bowerman founded “Blue Ribbon Sports” as a distributor for Japanese shoe maker Ontisuka Tiger, selling merchandise out of Knight’s car at track meets. The company grossed $8,000 in sales during its first year and by 1966 it had opened its first retail store in Santa Monica, California.

Blue Ribbon Sports was preparing to launch its own line of footwear in 1971, which would bear the recognizable “swoosh” logo. The company was officially renamed to “Nike” in 1978, taking the name of the Greek goddess of victory. By 1980, Nike had created its first “brand ad” and boasted 50% market share in the domestic sports footwear market; the company went public later that same year and today it is easily one of the most recognizable athletics brands in the world.

Goldman Sachs Group (GS)

The origins of this financial juggernaut go all the way back to the 19th century when German-born Marcus Goldman teamed up with his son-in-law Samuel Sachs to establish the Goldman Sachs Group in New York in 1869. The company made a name for itself by pioneering the use of commercial paper for small businesses. More notably, Goldman Sachs played a key role in fostering the development of the domestic initial public offering market; in 1906 it managed the debut of Sears Roebuck and Company and in 1956 it was the lead advisor for the Ford Motor Company IPO. 

Throughout the middle of the 20th century, the new senior partner at the firm, Sidney Weinberg, worked to shift Goldman’s focus away from trading and towards investment banking. Since then, the company has been a leader in the financials sector and not surprisingly it has also been the target of great scrutiny over its involvement in the 2007 housing bubble. Goldman Sachs does boast a rather “infamous” reputation on Wall Street, but its tremendous importance and influence in the industry is undeniable. 

Chevron Corporation (CVX)

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The history of big oil companies intertwine with one another like grape vines and Chevron’s story is no different. One of the company’s predecessors, Star Oil, was founded in 1876 after it struck oil at Pico Canyon north of Los Angeles. Another predecessor was the Texas Fuel Company, founded in 1901 by “Buckskin Joe.” In 1911, the Sherman Antitrust Act broke up Standard Oil, which at the time had absorbed the Standard Oil Co. of California, “SOCAL.”

Fast forward to 1984, SOCAL merged with Gulf Oil, which was the largest merger in history at the time; that same year the company changed its legal name to Chevron Corporation and it has since stuck with it. Today Chevron has operations in more than 180 countries across the globe and is engaged in every aspect of the oil & gas industry, from exploration to refining to sales.

General Electric Company (GE)

As you may have suspected, Thomas Edison holds a special place in GE’s history as he originally had business interest in several electric companies that would one day merge. In 1889, J.P. Morgan and Anthony Drexel financed Edisons’s research and helped him merge “Edison Machine Works,” “Bergmann & Company,” and “Edison Electric Light Company” under one corporation to form “Edison General Electric Company.”

The GE as we know it today was formed in 1892 when Edison General Electric Company of New York merged with the Thomson-Houston Electric Company of Massachusetts. GE was one of the original 12 Dow Jones Industrial Average components and today it is a diversified technology and financial services company.

Visa (V)

Originally founded in 1958 as “BankAmericard” by the Bank of America in Fresno, California, Visa would go on to become one of the bellwethers in the consumer credit services industry. Up to this point, many middle-class Americans had embraced a revolving line of credit, but with so many different merchants consumers found it a hassle to carry a ton of cards each for separate bills. Joseph P. Williams, the leader behind the “BankAmericard” think thank, would go on to execute the world’s first successful mass mailing of unsolicited credit cards.

After its initial success in Fresno, Bank of America continued with more “card drops” in San Francisco, Sacramento, as well as Los Angeles. By the end of 1959, there were over 2 million credit cards in the state of California along with a laundry list of problems, namely fraud and delinquent payments. To salvage the situation, Bank of America licensed the “BankAmericard” program to other banks across the U.S. as well as overseas, and by 1970 it had given up complete control. A few short years later in 1975, BankAmericard, Chargex, Carte Bleue, and Barclaycard were all united under the name “Visa.” Today, the company boasts a very recognizable blue & gold logo and is one of the largest facilitators of electronic funds transfers in the world.



International Business Machines Corp. (IBM)

Big Blue’s origins trace all the way back to the 1880s when a series of inventions emerged that would soon be united under one umbrella, including the computing scale, the dial recorder, and the time clock. IBM’s direct predecessor, the Computing Tabulating Recording Company, was founded in 1911 in New York City by Charles Flint; the company worked to provide custom, large-scale tabulating solutions for businesses that enabled them to process unprecedented amounts of data.

IBM went on to introduce a number of inventions that revolutionized both everyday life as well as business operations, including: the automated teller machine (ATM), floppy disk, hard drive, universal product code, and most recently Watson artificial intelligence. Today the company is a multinational technology and consulting corporation with one of the most recognizable brand names in the world, period.


Intel Corporation (INTC)

Founded in Mountain View, California, in 1968 by physicists Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce, and investor Arthur Rock, Intel has been a renowned semiconductor maker from its inception. Moore and Noyce originally wanted to name the company after themselves, but after giving it some thought they realized that “more noise” probably wasn’t the best name for an electronics company. Intel created the first commercially available microprocessor in 1971, the “Intel 4004,” and one of the first microcomputers the following year.

Throughout the ’90s Intel embarked on a furious growth period as the PC industry came to life, and recently it has been making efforts to get a foothold in the booming mobile market, which has undeniably taken a bite out of Intel’s core business.


Johnson & Johnson (JNJ)

Originally founded in 1886 by three brothers as a maker of surgical dressings, today Johnson & Johnson is a pharmaceutical goods bellwether. Inspired by an antiseptic advocate, Robert Johnson, James Johnson, and Edward Johnson set out  to crate a line of sanitation products that would greatly improve public health. The company has pursued a strategy of diversification since the turn of the 20th century, creating a division for consumer products and surgical products as well as expanding into pharmaceuticals and women’s toiletries.

Today Johnson & Johnson boasts a global brand and is involved in the research, development, and sale of a broad range of products in the health care industry.


JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM)

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Similar to big-oil’s history, the tale of how JPMorgan Chase & Co. came to be today is a tale of twists and mergers. One of its earliest predecessors, aside from the well-known J.P. Morgan & Co. founded in 1871, is the New York Chemical Manufacturing Company founded in 1823. The manufacturing company, founded by Balthazar Melick, produced chemicals like alum, nitric acid, camphor, as well as medicines, paints, and dyes; in 1824 the company amended its charter so it could start to perform banking actives, effectively creating the Chemical Bank of New York. 

Heading into the 20th century, Chemical Bank emerged as one of the leaders in the financial space and after a series of spin-offs and mergers it acquired the Chase Manhattan Corporation in 1996. The company acquired J.P. Morgan & Co. in 2000 to form what is today the largest bank in the United States by assets. 

The Coca-Cola Company (KO)

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The first Coca-Cola recipe was conceived at the Eagle Drug and Chemical Company drugstore in Columbus, Georgia, by John Pemberton. When prohibition laws were passed in 1886, Pemberton was prompted to develop Coca-Cola, a nonalcoholic version of his original recipe which was more of a French wine.  The first sales came from Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia, where Coca-Cola was initially sold as a patent medicine for a mere five pennies; Pemberton claimed his soda cured diseases like morphine addiction, dyspepsia, headaches, and even impotence.

By 1888 there were three versions of Coca-Cola on the market and Atlanta businessman Asa Candler set out to incorporate “The Coca-Cola Company” as we know it today with Pemberton’s son Charley. Candler teamed up with two entrepreneurs from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Benjamin Thomas and Joseph Whitehead, who proposed the idea of bottling the carbonated drink; the one-billionth gallon of Coca-Cola was produced in 1944. Today, The Coca-Cola Company boasts arguably the single most recognizable brand name in the world.  

McDonald’s (MCD)

The business began in 1940 when brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald opened up a barbecue restaurant in San Bernadino, California. They helped pioneer the fast food revolution with their introduction of the “Speedee Service System.” The original mascot was a man with a hamburger shaped head wearing a chef’s hat. By 1948 the McDonald’s brothers had reorganized their business into a hamburger stand and a few short years later in 1955 businessman Ray Kroc joined the company and helped lead its growth to unimaginable heights.

Kroc opened the first franchised restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois on April 15th, 1955 and would go on to buy out the McDonald’s brothers’ equity and take the company public in 1965. Today the company has over 34,000 locations worldwide and the “Golden Arches” have become an icon.

Merck & Co. (MRK)

Originally founded in 1891 as the U.S. subsidiary of a German company, today Merck is one of the largest competitors in the pharmaceutical space. The origins of Merck trace all the way back to Friedrich Merck who bought a drug store in Germany in 1668 and was later succeeded by Emanuel Merck. When Emanuel took over in 1816 he had been gradually building up a pharmaceutical factory; he and and his son George emigrated to the U.S. to set up Merck & Co. in 1891.

During World War I the company was confiscated as it was the U.S. arm of a German business; in 1917, Merck & Co. was re-established as an independent American company. In 1953 the company merged with Sharp & Dohme to become the largest U.S. drugmaker. Today Merck & Co. is a global health care company and one of the largest pharma-makers by revenue.

Pfizer (PFE)

Pfizer’s story traces back to cousins Charles Pfizer and Charles Erhart who founded a chemicals business in 1849 in Brooklyn. The “Charles Pfizer and Company” produced santonin, an antiparasitic used to expel worms from the body. Surprisingly, it was their production of citric acid that really bolstered profits in the 1880s and allowed the company to expand. By 1906, sales totaled almost $3 million and the onset of World War I pushed the company to become an expert in fermentation technology, which was later used to mass produce penicillin during World War II.

Pfizer had established locations across Europe and South America by the 1950s and it was on the path to becoming a research-based pharmaceutical company, steering away from its chemical manufacturing roots. Today the company remains a multinational pharmaceutical corporation working to develop medicines and vaccines for both humans and animals.

Microsoft (MSFT)

The history of Microsoft is familiar to many and its origins trace all the way back to 1972 when childhood friends Bill Gates and Paul Allen put their “geekiness” to work. The two programmers joined forces and founded “Traf-O-Data,” a company that offered a computer for tracking and analyzing car traffic data. The programming duo teamed up again in 1975 to create the the “Altair BASIC,” an interpreter for the Altair 8800 microcomputer; Microsoft was founded that same year and Gates was named CEO while Allen was credited for coming up with the company’s name.

Microsoft splashed onto the software scene in 1980 with Xenix, although it was MS-DOS that jump started the company’s success after it was awarded a contract from IBM to provide the software for its personal computers. The company released the first version of Windows in 1985 as a graphical extension for MS-DOS and went public the following year. Today the company is a dominant player in the software industry for both consumers as well as businesses and it has taken on more initiatives to expand its presence in the hardware space.


Procter & Gamble (PG)

The origins of this iconic consumers staples brand trace all the way back to late 1800s when William Procter, a candlemaker, and James Gamble, a soapmaker, crossed paths; arriving from England and Ireland respectively, the two met in Cincinnati, Ohio, where they married sisters Olivia and Elizabeth Norris. The father-in-law persuaded the new sons-in-law to go into business together and in 1837 Procter & Gamble was founded. The company saw tremendous success in its early days and sales reached $1 million by 1859 as it had won contracts to supply the Union Army during the Civil War with soap and candles.

Procter & Gamble began to diversify and expand its product lineup going into the 20th century, introducing Crisco cooking oil in 1911, Tide laundry detergent in 1946, and the first disposable diapers, Pampers, in 1961. Today the company is an international consumer goods giant with one of the most recognizable household brands.


AT&T (T)

The history of AT&T as we know it today traces back to 1874 and the Bell Patent Association, a legal entity created to protect Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone; Bell would go on to establish the “Bell Telephone Company” a few short years later in 1879. Bell also established the “American Telephone and Telegraph Company” in 1885, which went on to acquire the original Bell telephone company. This new entity proceeded to maintain a monopoly on telephone services in the U.S. until 1982 when it was finally broken up thanks to anti-trust laws.

Today, AT&T is the largest provider of mobile and fixed telecommunication services in the United States, and it had also expanded into offering broadband television and internet.


Travelers Companies (TRV)

The history of this insurance juggernaut traces back to two companies founded before the turn of the 20th century. The oldest predecessor was established in 1853 in St. Paul, Minnesota, the “Saint Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co.,” and served as a local insurance company aimed at serving customers who had trouble getting their claims processed from insurance companies on the East Coast. Founded in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1864, “Travelers” was the second predecessor, and it provided travel insurance to railroad passengers; the company was the first to offer an automobile policy as well as the first commercial airline policy.

Travelers endured a series of mergers and acquisitions in the 1990s and finally it merged with the St. Paul insurance company in 2004 to create “St. Paul Travelers”; the label stuck until 2007 when the corporate name was officially changed to “The Travelers Companies.” Today, Travelers is a global provider of commercial, personal property, and casualty insurance to businesses as well as individuals.


UnitedHealth Group (UNH)

UnitedHealth Group’s story starts in 1977 when it acquired Charter Med Incorporated, which had been founded three years prior. The company, originally registered as the “UntedHealthCare Corporation,” made news in 1979 when it introduced the first network-based health plan for senior citizens.

UnitedHealth Group grew quickly over the following years and it became publicly traded in 1984. Today, UnitedHealth Group is the parent company of UnitedHealthcare, which is the largest single health carrier in the United States.


United Technologies (UTX)

This company’s history starts at the breakup of the United Aircraft and Transport Corporation in 1934 following the passage of the Air Mail Act of 1934, which stated that carriers and their equipment manufacturers could no longer be under the same umbrella. United Aircraft would go on to focus on contracts for the United States Army and Navy, while its airline component would split off to become United Airlines.

World War II and the Cold War spurred demand for the company’s products, and increasing competition from GE and Boeing really pushed the envelope for developing new technologies. The company saw its name officially change to United Aircraft Technologies Corporation in 1975 when CEO Harry Gray wanted to showcase the firm’s focus in fields beyond the aerospace industry; today, the company remains very diversified across the high-tech and aerospace sectors. 

Verizon Communications (VZ)

The origins of this well-known telecom giant trace back to 1983 and the breakup of AT&T into the seven “Baby Bells,” with “Bell Atlantic” being the direct predecessor. As its name suggests, Bell Atlantic originally operated on the East Coast covering New Jersey to Virginia; in 1996, the company went on to merge with NYNEX, another regional “Baby Bell” with a footprint spanning New York to Maine. Just a few short years later in 2000 Bell Atlantic merged with phone company GTE, at the same time adopting the name “Verizon Communications.”

Verizon joined the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 2004 and today it is one of the largest providers of communications, information and entertainment products and services to consumers, businesses as well as governmental agencies.

Wal-Mart (WMT)

It’s a bit mind boggling to think about how the world’s largest private employer started as a local discount store in rural Arkansas. Wal-Mart’s story begins in 1945 when former J.C. Penney employee Sam Walton purchased a branch of the “Ben Franklin Stores” from the Butler Brothers, a mail-order company originally founded in 1877. Walton focused on low prices and higher-volume sales right from the start, demonstrating his commitment to delivering the best prices possible for the consumer; he opened “Walton’s Five and Dime” in 1950 in Bentonville, Arkansas, after he couldn’t renew the lease on his original store location.

The first Walmart Discount City store opened in 1962 and within its first five years the company opened up 24 locations across Arkansas with sales topping $12 million. The company was officially incorporated as “Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.” in 1969 and it was listed on the New York Stock Exchange the following year. Today, Wal-Mart is a discount retail juggernaut with nearly 9,000 locations worldwide and it is still controlled by the Walton family.

Exxon Mobil (XOM)

Exxon’s history traces back to the breakup of the Standard Oil Company, which was originally founded in 1870 by John D. Rockefeller. In 1911, the Supreme Court ruled that Standard Oil must be split up into 34 companies, including the “Standard Oil Company of New Jersey” and the “Standard Oil Company of New York,” which would become Exxon and Mobil respectively. The two companies proceeded to grow significantly over the following years thanks to a booming automotive industry and industrial sector.

In 1998 Exxon and Mobil signed a merger and it was approved one year later, marking the reunion of the two largest companies from the original Standard Oil trust; not surprisingly, this also made it the largest merger in U.S. corporate history at the time. Today, Exxon Mobile is the second largest publicly traded company and is involved in every aspect of the energy business from oil & gas exploration to production to developing new technologies.


The Home Depot (HD)

Founded in 1978 in Atlanta, Georgia by Bernard Marcus, Arthur Blank, Ron Brill, and Pat Farrah, the Home Depot set out to be a home-improvement “super warehouse” for the do-it-yourself crowd. The Home Depot set itself apart from the start by requiring all workers to complete fairly rigorous product knowledge training; this greatly enhanced the customer experience and the company also started offering “clinics” where people could learn how to do virtually any home improvement project themselves.

The company saw tremendous success in its early days and it went public in 1981 on the NASDAQ and ended up moving to the New York Stock Exchange in 1984. Today, The Home Depot operates locations in all 50 U.S. states as well as Canada, Mexico, and China, and is the largest home improvement retailer in America.

Cisco Systems (CSCO)

Cisco was founded by two Stanford University computer support staff members, Leonard Bosack and Sandy Lerner, in 1984. The company’s first product was a blue box router with a stolen copy of the University router software which they adapted into what became the foundation for Cisco IOS. In 1986, Bosack was forced to resign from Stanford and school officials even contemplated filing criminal charges for the software theft; one year later the university ended up licensing the router software and two of its computers to Cisco Systems. 

Cisco was not the first company to sell dedicated network nodes, but it was the first to sell commercially successful routers with multiple network protocol capabilities. The company went public in 1990 and the rise of the Internet helped to transform its business. Today, Cisco provides a line of products for transporting data, voice, and video within organizations and around the world.

The Walt Disney Company (DIS)

This iconic company was originally founded in 1923 by brothers Walt and Roy Disney as the “Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio” in Hollywood. The company changed its name to “Walt Disney Studio” in 1926 and one of its first original characters was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, although the series was not financially successful. In 1928, in an effort to restore the company’s finances, Disney came up with a mouse character named “Mortimer” while on a train ride; the mouse was later renamed to “Mickey” and it instantly became a favorite among youngsters.

Disney released the first full feature length animated film in 1934, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” and by 1939 it became the highest-grossing film at the time; the company used the profits to finance the construction of Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, and in 1940 it had its initial public offering. Disney continued to release wildly popular characters, like Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bambi, Cinderella, and Peter Pan, over the coming years. Today, the company is an international media giant with diversified operations in the film industry as well as parks & resorts.