Inventing the Modern World

On this day in economic and financial history…

One of the most successful accidents in history happened on this day in 1928. Alexander Fleming, returning to his lab on the morning of Sept. 28, 1928, found a petri dish of bacteria contaminated with mold -- the first instance of modern antibiotics. He named the compound that resulted from further research "penicillin."

It would be years before the discovery could be commercialized. The first dose, manufactured by Merck (NYSE: MRK  ) , would not be given to a patient in the United States until 1942. Its success led to a deluge of production -- by the end of 1943, 21 billion units had been produced (about 4.2 million times the dosage given to the first patient).

A single share of Merck stock, bought on Sept. 28, 1942 for about $26, has grown in value to become worth nearly $62,000 spread out over nearly 1,400 shares, not accounting for any reinvested dividends. Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) , which went public in June of 1942, began mass-producing penicillin in 1944 with a great deal of those supplies destined for D-Day soldiers that same year. Its current market cap is 15,000 times larger than its post-IPO market cap of $12.4 million.

A bit more than 15 minutes of fame
The first color televisions were sold to the public beginning on Sept. 28, 1951. The sets were manufactured by CBS, but production came to a halt the next month following an edict from the Defense Mobilization Program, which demanded the availability of scarce resources as Korean War efforts scaled up.

There were 12 million TV sets in the United States at the end of 1951. By 1955, half of American homes had a TV. That year, Billboard reported total television broadcasting industry revenues of $745 million. Color TV wouldn't find a place in half of American homes until 1972, at which point industry revenues had grown to $4.6 billion.

Today, the global TV broadcast industry (including cable) generates about $375 billion in revenue each year, with about $90 billion of that flowing to American industry players. Approximately 239 million TVs should ship worldwide by the end of this year.

Impacts on the Dow
There were no drugmakers in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI  ) until Merck joined the index in 1979. Pfizer joined in 2004, following Johnson & Johnson's (NYSE: JNJ  ) 1997 initiation. Though many film-focused media companies have been part of the Dow over the years, only Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) among all past or present Dow inclusions has made the majority of its revenue (and profit) from television while part of the index. These four companies now comprise about 11% of the Dow's total value.

Penicillin and television have changed the world in ways that can't be fully quantified, but they've affected shareholders in the above companies in profoundly positive ways. The next great innovation might be about to explode into the public consciousness, bringing changes as profound as penicillin or television. To find out more about the technology behind what's been called "The New Industrial Revolution" and the three companies leading the way, click here for a free report that just might change your life.

Fool contributor Alex Planes holds no financial position in any company mentioned here. Add him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter @TMFBiggles for more news and insights.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney and Johnson & Johnson. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Johnson & Johnson and Walt Disney. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a diagonal call position in Johnson & Johnson. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (2)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On September 28, 2012, at 12:34 PM, rds11093 wrote:

    Is the stated 1.5 million fold increase in PFE's market cap from 1942 to the present correct? $12.4M in 1942 to ca. $200B today is approximately a 15,000 fold increase, not 1.5 million.

  • Report this Comment On September 28, 2012, at 12:44 PM, TMFBiggles wrote:

    You are correct. Now I know how the guys in Office Space felt after they misplaced the decimal.

Add your comment.

DocumentId: 2035976, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 4/19/2014 8:58:24 PM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...


Advertisement