A Day of Firsts: IPOs, Solar Power, and Videotape

On this day in economic and business history...

John Carter-is entitled to
One Share in the Bank of North America
transferable at the bank by himself or his attorney.

Witness the Seal of the Presidents,
Directors, and Company of the said
bank at Philadelphia, this 7th day
of June-1783.

-- Text of the first known American stock certificate in existence.

The United States had not yet been formally established as a sovereign nation when the Bank of North America opened its doors in 1782. A year and a half later, the yet-to-be-formed nation's first commercial bank became the nation's first public company when it held an initial public offering on Jun. 7, 1783. The U.S. would not end its war with Great Britain and gain international recognition for another three months -- but the wheels of finance were already turning in Philadelphia, nearly a decade before the New York Stock Exchange was to form on Wall Street.

In 1995, Paper Money magazine wrote in great detail on this momentous event in American financial history:

Subscriptions to the national bank were aided by the transfer of pledges from the earlier 1780 subscription, but even after the monumental patriot victory at the Battle of Yorktown in August only $85,000 had been raised by December 1781. All but the most patriotic citizens viewed the proposed Bank of North America scheme as a sure way to lose what little money they had left.

["Financier of the Revolution" Robert] Morris and his bank scheme received a windfall when Tench Francis arrived in Philadelphia -- spirited through enemy lines from Boston -- with many teams of oxen dragging some $470,000 in cash borrowed from the French King Louis XVI. ... Morris immediately subscribed to the 633 shares remaining of the new bank on behalf of the United States and completed the subscription list so that the bank could be officially incorporated on December 31, and open its doors for business on January 7, 1782 amid much fanfare. ...

State and U.S. government loans held by the bank, and the 633 shares of Bank of North America stock purchased initially by the United States, subsequently became collateral (and later payment) for various government loans. For a while John Paul Jones, the famous Revolutionary War sea captain was the bank's largest stockholder. Later, Robert Morris became the bank's biggest individual stockholder other than the United States with only 20 shares as late as June 30, 1783.

The "John Carter" of the Bank's IPO certificate has been identified as John Barker Church, an English expatriate who became both a wealthy military contractor and the brother-in-law to founding father Alexander Hamilton. "Carter" returned to England after the Treaty of Paris ended the war, leaving his stock certificate in Hamilton's hands -- which is at least part of the reason why it is the only remaining physical piece of evidence of the first IPO in American history.

The modern American stock market has welcomed more than a hundred IPOs per year, on average, since the last great bull market began in 1980. From 1980 to 2000, an average of 311 companies went public each year, but this number has declined to just more than 100 per year following the end of the dot-com bubble. Thousands upon thousands of companies have undergone an IPO process since the Bank of North America first offered shares to the public in 1783, raising much-needed capital for ventures of all sizes.

The Bank of North America still exists as a part of Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC  ) after many mergers and acquisitions. The prestigious bank received the first national banking charter granted in the U.S. during the Civil War -- a number Wells Fargo continues to use today.

Shine a light
The first solar-power plant in the U.S. was dedicated at Utah's Natural Bridges Natural Monument on June 7, 1980. The 100-kilowatt plant was made up of more than 260,000 solar cells and was at the time the largest such installation in the world. At a cost of $15 million and with an efficiency of only 10%, the array is both costly and somewhat primitive compared to the commercial-scale solar installations that now supplement a small part of the American energy infrastructure.

Today, NextEra Energy (NYSE: NEE  ) claims to be the largest solar-power company in the U.S. Its 320-megawatt solar capacity is more than 3,000 times larger than that of the Natural Bridges array -- and that total might be set to increase dramatically in the near future. More than 3,300 MW of solar capacity were installed across the U.S. in 2012 alone, bringing the nation's total capacity to more than 7,700 MW -- enough to power more than 1.2 million homes.

Be kind, rewind
Strange as it may seem, there was a time when the only way to watch a television program was to be there in front of the TV when it was on. That changed on or around June 7, 1965 (the exact date is uncertain), when Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) introduced the CV-2000, the first video-tape recorder made for the consumer market. Popular Mechanics gives us the lowdown on this pioneering device:

For a mere $695 ($4,670 in today's bucks), Sony sold one of the first consumer videotape recorders. This compact (46 pounds!) machine recorded TV shows in black and white on reel-to-reel tapes. Each spool of tape cost $40 (that's almost $270 to you and me) and could hold one hour of video at 200 stunning lines of resolution. Intended for the home market, most CV-2000s were bought up by schools and businesses. And before the CV-2000 had much of a chance to gain acceptance, color and cassette options were starting to appear.

As was often the case, the first true example of a new technology saw few adopters. However, Sony's experience developing the CV-2000 gave it a leg up in developing the video-recording format that almost made it -- Betamax, which was introduced to the public exactly one decade later, on June 7, 1975. Betamax has become a cautionary tale in technology after it sacrificed playing time for a better picture in its ultimately unsuccessful competition with the VHS format. It lost the format war to the tapes that could record a full-length movie in one go.

Betamax also became the focal point of a lawsuit brought by Comcast's Universal Studios, Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) , and other major film-industry players against home video-recording devices. Universal and Disney took the lead in the lawsuit, which was filed only a year after Betamax first hit the market. Anyone familiar with the Napster case will understand the basics: content creators, afraid that a new format would destroy their sales and profitability by allowing consumers the freedom to duplicate content at will, sued the developer of that new format in an effort to remove it from the market. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which decided in 1984 that copies of television shows for later viewing did not violate copyright laws.

This case, in addition to setting precedents later used in digital-music cases, also forced studios to reimagine the role prerecorded content might have in their revenue plans. Interestingly, it was in 1984 that Disney began to revive its fortunes following the installation of Michael Eisner to the corner office. Eisner embraced the home-video market and expanded Disney's big-screen and television offerings into what must be considered -- in this child-of-the-late-'80s author's opinion, anyway -- golden age. Thanks in no small part to expanded film-distribution made possible by videotape (VHS was then firmly established), Disney became the Dow Jones Industrial Average's (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) only true production company when it was added in 1991, just before reeling off a streak of all-time animation classics -- which probably continue to occupy the shelves of millions of sentimental households, in VHS form, to this day.

It's easy to forget that Walt Disney is more than just the House of Mouse. True, Disney amusement parks around the world hosted more than 121 million guests in 2011. But from its vast catalog of characters to its monster collection of media networks, much of Disney's allure for investors lies in its diversity, and The Motley Fool's premium research report lays out the case for investing in Disney today. This report includes the key items investors must watch, as well as the opportunities and threats the company faces going forward. So don't miss out -- simply click here now to claim your copy today.


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