On this day in economic and financial history...

Can a single commercial become a corporate rallying cry? On Jan. 22, 1984, sports fans who tuned in to Super Bowl XVIII were stunned by the Ridley Scott-directed "1984," which introduced Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Macintosh to the mass market for the first time.

The heavily symbolic ad presented Apple as a defiant upstart in a world increasingly dominated by IBM PCs and PC clones running Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) MS-DOS. A Big Brother-like figure on a massive screen speaks to rows of rapt followers in an imposing hall:

We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death, and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!

A nameless heroine, clad in a white tank top and orange shorts -- similar to the attire Hooters waitresses later became famous for -- runs into the hall with a hammer and hurls it at the screen, shattering it.

"On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984."

The ad has since been hailed as one of the greatest commercials of all time. It established Apple as the anti-establishment brand, an image the company would later play up in Mac vs. PC ads and its "Think Different" campaign. The "1984" ad was never broadcast again following its Super Bowl showing.

However, the Mac itself did not capture the public's imagination quite as much as the revolutionary ad. Although it was one of the pioneers of both the graphical user interface and the mouse, the $2,500 machine (terribly overpriced for its capabilities) did not surpass the sales of its older cousin, the Apple II, until 1987. By this point Steve Jobs had long since been forced out of Apple in an acrimonious battle over the future of the company, and this battle would become the Mac's other enduring legacy.

The Mac reached peak market share of about 12% in 1992 and peak sales of 4.1 million units in 1995. It bottomed out in sales numbers in 1998 -- the same year Steve Jobs, again leading the company, announced the iMac, a Macintosh for the next generation of PC users. Two decades after "1984" first aired, Apple digitally enhanced the original footage to give the hammer-wielding heroine an iPod and posted it to the Internet.

Apple isn't the underdog anymore, but will it be able to maintain its new role as the Big Brother of mobile, or will a surprising competitor provide its own 1984 moment? Curious investors can find a wealth of information on Apple in our exclusive premium research service. There's enough here to help you decide whether Apple's a great buy today after a long slide -- click here to get your premium reports now.

A gusher on the Gulf Coast
began life as Pacific Coast Oil in California before the turn of the century. Coast, as it was popularly known, quickly became California's largest oil-refiner, but it ran into stiff competition once John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil pushed its way into the state soon after. The out-muscled Coast Oil agreed to become part of Standard Oil's sprawling national network in 1900, but it remained exclusively a refiner until Jan. 22, 1910, when the first gusher of oil flowed from a well its team had drilled in Kern County, California.

The decision to go vertical proved prescient a year later when Standard Oil was broken up in a landmark antitrust suit. The newly independent Standard Oil of California confirmed its dedication to the full range of oil production -- from well to station -- by naming Demetrius Scofield, who had tapped the gusher in Kern County, as its new president. Two decades after that first well began to flow, Standard Oil of California became part of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI), joining both former parent Standard Oil of New Jersey (now ExxonMobil) and its future merger partner Texas Company (Texaco) as the Dow's oil-industry representatives.

DuPont steps up
One of the Dow's most venerable components first joined on Jan. 22, 1924. DuPont became one of 20 components that day (the Dow did not grow to 30 until 1928), finally giving the Dow a true chemicals company in its ranks. A month later, DuPont's annual report for 1923 showed an impressive 31% year-over-year growth in revenue to $94 million and a far more impressive 88% year-over-year increase on the bottom line to $19 million.

DuPont was removed a year and a half later to make room for Texas Company, but it would rejoin for good in 1935. In the eight decades that followed DuPont's first ascension to the index elite in 1924, its revenue increased at an annualized rate of 7.4%, and its net income rose at a rate of 5.9% per year.

The red light goes dark
On Jan. 22, 2002, Kmart Corporation filed for bankruptcy. Until its failure, the company had been the nation's second-largest discount retailer, but it could not compete with the larger and more efficient Wal-Mart. Kmart's filing made it the largest retail bankruptcy in U.S. history: The company's $17 billion in assets were more than double those of Federated Department Stores' at the time of its 1990 bankruptcy filing.

Kmart's shares crashed through the floor, as might be expected, falling 60% on that day to $0.74. The company was said to be exploring the option of closing up to 500 of its more than 2,100 existing stores in a bid for greater cost savings. At the time of its filing, Kmart had $37 billion in annual revenue, far behind Wal-Mart's $218 billion for its 2002 fiscal year.

Nearly three years later, a resurgent Kmart merged with Sears to form Sears Holdings (NASDAQ:SHLDQ) in a deal that was supposed to create the third-largest retailer in the country. Such ambitions have never been realized. A decade after its bankruptcy, the former Kmart was merely a part of the 12th-largest retailer in the United States, according to the National Retail Federation's Stores top 100 list. That's only accounting for U.S. sales; on a worldwide basis, Sears Holdings only merits 16th place. The combined retailer's annual U.S. sales were actually 9% lower than Kmart's had been in the 12 months prior to its bankruptcy.

Browser fight!
The same day Kmart went belly-up, on Jan. 22, 2002, two of the Internet's early leaders squared off in court. That day, AOL Time Warner's browser-building subsidiary Netscape filed an antitrust suit against Microsoft, alleging that anticompetitive practices had illegally undermined its ability to do business. At this point, the fast-fading Netscape browser controlled less than 10% of the market -- a stunning decline from its peak of nearly 80% market share in 1996.

Microsoft, then only a few months removed from its final antitrust settlement with the U.S. government -- a case strongly supported by Netscape -- belittled its weakened competitor, saying through a spokesman: "Microsoft is investing in building products. AOL is investing in lawyers and lobbyists to put roadblocks in Microsoft's way." This Micro-snark appeared accurate a year and a half later when Microsoft settled with AOL for $750 million and signed a seven-year deal that allowed AOL to license Internet Explorer for free. Netscape wheezed along, largely abandoned by the public, until 2008, when it ceased work on browsers entirely. Today, Netscape's legacy continues in the Mozilla Firefox browser, which is an outgrowth of the open-source Mozilla project that Netscape created in 1998.

Unlocking the power of the atom
On Jan. 22, 1939, Professor John Dunning and two student assistants first split the uranium atom in the basement of Pupin Hall at Columbia University. This was the genesis of human-initiated nuclear fission and the earliest precursor to the Manhattan Project, which led to the development of the atomic bomb, two of which were dropped on Japan to conclude World War II in 1945.

In later years, Americans also harnessed the power of the atom to generate electricity. Today, nuclear power provides more than 12% of the world's electricity, with 13 countries obtaining at least a quarter of their electricity from nuclear plants. In the U.S., the native country of the nuke, Exelon (NASDAQ:EXC) is the largest provider of nuclear power, representing roughly 20% of the country's nuclear capacity and providing power to approximately 17 million American homes. In 2011, Exelon produced more than 139 million megawatt-hours of nuclear-sourced electricity through 10 nuclear plants with a total of 17 reactors.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.