On this day in economic and financial history...
In 1996, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) was a floundering relic of the '80s, left behind by a monster bull market that was rapidly making erstwhile competitor Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) into the world's biggest public company. Everything changed on Feb. 7, 1997, when Apple brought its founder back into the fold by acquiring Steve Jobs' NeXT.
We all know what happened next (no pun intended). Jobs quickly hustled his way back into the executive office when then-CEO Gil Amelio was unceremoniously dumped months later. He streamlined the company's bloated product line and forged a controversial partnership with Microsoft that brought the two rivals closer together. Then came the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. With these new products came a skyrocketing share price: It grew 2,000% in Jobs' first decade.
By the time Jobs resigned in 2011 to battle the cancer that would ultimately claim his life, Apple's stock had increased by 9,420% from the day of its NeXT acquisition. It will go down in history as one of the best acquisitions of all time, but not for the reason anyone had expected. All Apple sought at the time was a better operating system. That day, the real operating-system upgrade was installed in Apple itself.
With Steve Jobs gone, Apple's future no longer seems quite as bright. What lies in store for the world's leading consumer-electronics company? Is it still worth its weight in iPads, or is the Jobs Era now succeeded by a time of mediocre stewardship? You can learn more about Apple's prospects in our exclusive premium research reports. In these reports, you'll find all the information you need to decide whether or not Apple still deserves a place in your portfolio. Click here to subscribe today.
Entertainment for the boom and bust
The days bookending Feb. 7 gave rise to three of the early modern age's most iconic artists. On Feb. 6, 1937, in the depths of the Great Depression, John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men was first published, introducing his Depression-era sensibilities to a broad public audience. On Feb. 7, 1914, Charlie Chaplin first waddled into the hearts of America with his classic Little Tramp character in the silent film Kid Auto Races at Venice. A year later, on Feb. 8, 1915, D.W. Griffith's groundbreaking (and highly controversial) film Birth of a Nation premiered in Los Angeles.
The United States was in the midst of a profound transformation during this time. At the turn of the century, 60% of the country lived in rural regions. By 1930 only 44% were rural dwellers. Electricity, automobiles, and telecommunications were spreading rapidly. Chaplin managed the transition from the Roaring Twenties to the Great Depression better than Griffith. His hapless Tramp proved an ideal character for films exploring both the incredible and bewildering technological progress and the economic collapse that resulted from blind optimism in that progress. Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men also became a successful piece of cinema in 1939, owing to its play-like format (Steinbeck himself adapted the book for the stage later in 1937).
In the 23 years separating the birth of the Tramp from George and Lennie, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) increased by 125%. However, this obviously obscures the tremendous rise (to a maximum gain of 360%) and precipitous fall (to a maximum loss of 50%) that occurred in the interim. Investing in this time of transformation could have brought incredible wealth, but only if you could keep your head.
A light in dark places
Baltimore has a long history of "firsts" in the U.S. One such notable first in corporate history occurred in Baltimore on Feb. 7, 1817, when the first public gas streetlamp lit up a block south of the City Hall. A few months prior, museum keeper Rembrandt Peale had petitioned the City Council to light the streets, and so the lamp-lighting inaugurated the service of the first public gas utility in the United States, the Gas Light Company of Baltimore. Today, that company is Baltimore Gas and Electric, a subsidiary of Exelon (NYSE:EXC). It's Maryland's largest gas and electric utility, with 650,000 natural-gas customers and 1.2 million electric customers.
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 recommends Apple and Exelon.
The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.