Verizon Takes Shape, and Illumina Steps Up

On this day in economic and business history ...

The company now known as Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) was first created when Bell Atlantic announced its acquisition of rival telecom GTE on July 28, 1998. The $52.8 billion megadeal immediately vaulted the as-yet-unnamed Verizon (it would be nearly two years before "Verizon" was chosen as the new telecom's corporate name) into the highest levels of American telecom power. Of course, a deal of this size prompted federal regulators to announce plans for a close examination, as Bell Atlantic was already the largest local phone company in the United States, and the two telecoms would also combine to serve 10.6 million wireless subscribers, nearly a sixth of the entire U.S. wireless market at the time.

It took two years for the deal to work its way through the regulatory process, and by the time the two companies officially merged into Verizon, they served 77 million wired-line subscribers. Verizon became the 10th-largest company by revenue in the U.S. in its first year of operation, and its wireless partnership has long held on to the subscriber lead, with more than 106 million subscribers reported in its 2012 fiscal year a nearly fivefold improvement over the 23 million subscribers reported after the merger closed. Verizon's importance to the engines of American prosperity earned it a spot on the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) a mere four years after its creation.

Boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew
July 28, 1586, is the earliest precise date known for the introduction of potatoes to the European continent. That day, Sir Walter Raleigh and Thomas Harriot returned to England from a voyage to the New World with some of the hardy tubers in their cargo hold. Some records exist of potatoes in Europe from as far back as the mid-1570s, when Spanish explorers returned with potatoes from their colonies. However, for its precise date and for its importance to later Irish economic development, the 1586 introduction should be considered vital.

Today, the potato is the fifth most important crop in the world, but it achieved this status in Europe far later than the four other largest staple crops. It remained largely a curiosity in the Old World until the 18th century. Once potatoes became widely accepted, they imparted enormous benefits to the European continent -- a study by Nathan Nunn and Nancy Qian discovered that potatoes were responsible for at least a quarter of Old World population growth between 1700 and 1900. In Smithsonian magazine's feature on potatoes (a worthwhile read for curious food-history buffs), one historian is quoted as crediting the potato with the rise of the West.

A sequence of success
Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN  ) went public on July 28, 2000, becoming one of many companies to see its stock more than double on the first day during the end of the dot-com bubble. Its initial $16 pricing became a $39 share price by the end of the day, turning the unproven company into a $230 million market-cap multibagger in just a few hours while leaving more than $100 million in financing on the table.

Illumina stood out from the fly-by-night websites that typified dot-com investing excess, because it would soon become one of the leaders in the fast-moving field of genome sequencing. Exactly five years earlier, on July 28, 1995, scientists working for the Human Genome Project had successfully sequenced the first complete genome, that of bacterial influenza (a cause of pneumonia and meningitis, but not of the flu, which is caused by a viral infection). Less than a year later, the project would near its goal of sequencing the complete human genome -- and that goal was reached in 2003, two years ahead of schedule. By this point, Illumina had joined the race with a genotyping product of its own, and by 2005 Illumina stepped to the fore of genomics with a whole-genome sequencing product.

Today, Illumina dominates two-thirds of the global sequencing market. Tomorrow, it might be anyone's game. The cost of sequencing a complete genome has already fallen from $70 million in 2002 -- when Illumina launched its first genomic product -- to less than $7,000 today, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute. Such rapid progress points to one of two situations -- dominance by the incumbent, or an uprising of next-gen technology.

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