The One Monopoly America Will Never Break Up

On this day in economic and financial history...

On Feb. 6, 1924, Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) first joined the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) . Chevron was then known as Standard Oil of California, and its accession to the index made it the first of the "Baby Standards" to become a Dow component.

The new addition was one of only 20 stocks on the Dow at the time, and it was not without controversy. Mere days before its inclusion, Chevron took part in a broad market advance on the back of an oil price boom among oil fields in the eastern U.S. -- which Chevron, then a California-based company, had nothing to do with. In four months, a barrel of crude oil had risen from $2.60 to $4.25 -- a tremendous 63% increase that would not be surpassed until the OPEC oil price shocks of the 1970s. The day after Chevron's accession, President Calvin Coolidge instructed the Department of Justice to investigate the abnormally high oil prices. Later that month, Congress engaged in an acrimonious fight over whether to confiscate some Standard Oil drilling leases located inside the large Naval Oil Reserve in California's Elk Hills.

Despite government opposition, Chevron quickly proved it belonged in the Dow with an excellent earnings report for the just-finished year. For 1923, the oil giant recorded sales of $20.3 million on 14.4 million barrels of crude oil (and a small amount of refined product), with a whopping $6.1 million in net income -- both significantly higher than its 1922 results. Eight decades later, Chevron had been dropped from the Dow -- for reasons that remain unclear -- but its production of oil and natural-gas liquids had grown tremendously to a total daily production of 1.8 million barrels per day, or 657 million barrels for the full year. That enabled the company to earn $7.2 billion in profit on $121.7 billion in revenue, a somewhat smaller slice of a pie 600,000 times larger.

All aboard! Eventually...
On Feb. 6, 1815, the state of New Jersey granted John Stevens and his associates in the New Jersey Railroad Company the first railroad charter in the United States. This early concept was too far ahead of its time, and nothing ever came of it, but the idea grew to become the New Jersey Rail Road and Transportation Company, which successfully transported passengers for many years. The U.S. reached its all-time railroad peak a century after New Jersey took a flyer on that newfangled "railroad" idea. In 1916, two-thirds of all American freight was carried on 254,000 miles of railroad tracks.

The gateway between east and west
On Feb. 6, 1819, Sir Stamford Raffles founded modern Singapore on a small island off the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsula. It remained a part of the British Empire until 1963, when it separated to form Malaysia -- only to separate from Malaysia and declare its independence two years later. Today, Singapore is one of the wealthiest nations in the world in terms of purchasing-power parity. Its roughly five million inhabitants generate approximately $60,000 in per-capita GDP. This tiny country has a stronger economy than the much larger Egypt, Hungary, or oil-rich Qatar.

Bank error in your favor!
Monopoly, Parker Brothers' world-famous board game for budding capitalists, first went on sale on Feb. 6, 1935. In the depths of the Great Depression, Monopoly offered weary families a way to escape their doldrums and become property barons for a few hours. It was a big hit, despite the fact that everyone tends to hate the winner by the end of the game.

It was so popular, in fact, that Parker Brothers has been the target of several acquisitions over the years. General Mills (NYSE: GIS  ) acquired the game maker in 1968 and eventually sold it as a subsidiary unit to Tonka in 1987. That same year, Parker Brothers began a relationship with McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) that has brought the annual McDonald's Monopoly sweepstakes to the Golden Arches around the globe. Hasbro (NASDAQ: HAS  ) purchased Tonka, and Parker Brothers with it, in 1991, and the Monopoly maker has remained part of Hasbro's stable ever since.

The McDonald's sweepstakes has not been without its controversy. A McDonald's subcontractor hired to administer the contest wound up skimming over $24 million from the prize pool from 1995 to 2000, claiming nearly all the top prizes for this period. To add insult to injury, the subcontractor extracted nearly $17 million more from McDonald's over a failed breach-of-contract settlement suit that the fast-food franchiser initiated after discovering the fraud.

More than 200 million copies of Monopoly have been sold since 1935, in 89 languages and dozens of variants. Due to its popularity, it's often said that more Monopoly money -- $15,140 per game -- is printed each year than is printed of real U.S. paper money, but that's not true. According to mythbuster Chad Upton of the Broken Secrets blog, about $68 billion of Monopoly money is printed each year, but the U.S. government prints about $2 trillion annually. Hasbro's Monopoly mint doesn't even come close.

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