Forbes, one of America’s premiere business publications and one of the more influential magazines, just turned 100 years old. It joined a number of magazines that have hit the century mark and enjoy informing the country. It is a list that includes Scientific American (founded 1845), The Atlantic (1857) Harper’s Weekly (1850) The Nation (1865), Vogue (1892), and a handful of others. Some brand publications haven’t yet made it to the century mark -- Time, Reader’s Digest, and Glamour to name a few. Forbes, founded September 15, 1917, during World War I, embodies the capitalist ethic of the nation. Its history is worth exploring.
Forbes honored its centennial milestone with a special collector’s edition issue. It featured many interesting charts, lists, stats, and factoids. For instance, it showed that if you would have invested $1000 back in 1917 in the following companies, it would be worth this in today’s dollars:
Procter & Gamble 1.596 million dollars
Deer & Co. 1.171 million dollars
GE 992,000 bucks
Sears, Roebuck 690,000 bucks
Ford 115,000 bucks
AT&T 25,000 bucks
But before you beat yourself up for not making such investments, look no further than today’s most-valuable companies as possible stocks to buy: Apple, Alphabet (Google), Microsoft, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and Facebook.
You may have noticed that 5 of the 6 biggest companies are in technology. The represent what steel was 100 years ago and oil and gas 50 years ago. In fact, the three largest sectors, by market value in America today are tech, financed services, and medical – accounting for a little over 50% of the total assets of the top 50 companies.
Forbes is famous for its lists. The Forbes 400 was launched in 1981. Back then, one could make the list with a net worth of at least 100 million dollars. Now it requires a net worth of at least 1.7 billion dollars.
Back in 1918, the wealthiest people were:
John D. Rockefeller (Oil) – worth 21 billion in 2017 dollars
Henry Clay Frick (Steel) – worth 3.9 billion now.
Andrew Carnegie (Steel) worth 3.5 billion now.
Henry Ford, riding high from inventing mass-produced autos, was worth 1.8 billion in 1918 (in today’s money). Steel, banking, oil, and railroads were the favored industries driving up the enormous wealth of these titans. Today one can be an overnight billionaire by developing a digital concept and launching an IPO – profitability be damned.
Interestingly, Forbes pointed out headlines and predictions over the years that got things wrong. In December, 1929 Forbes declared the worst was over for stocks. The market remained down for the next three years. In April, 1992 Forbes tells readers not to put any new money into the stock market. The bull market rages on, almost without interruption, for eight more years.
Forbes has only had three editor-in-chiefs – all family numbers. Founder B.C. Forbes served until 1954 and Malcolm Forbes until 1990. One served for 37 years; the other 36. Currently Steve Forbes has served for 27 years.
Something is to be said about longevity and sustained recognition in any industry, but especially in the news media and magazine publishing. The industry is rocked by declining circulation, advertising, and influence. But as Forbes has demonstrated, even amidst fierce competition, one can remain atop of their game.
Let’s also shout out top 100 magazines that were founded in the 1800’s – National Geographic, Good Housekeeping, Ladies’ Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, American Rifleman, Popular Science, Sunset, and Field & Stream. May more magazines turn 100 and beyond.
We need a diverse media to inform, enlighten, inspire, and entertain us. We should all celebrate Forbes turning 100 and wish others to join them.
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