On this day in economic and business history ...

Home Depot (NYSE:HD) went public on Sept. 22, 1981, two years after its first stores opened in Atlanta. The home-improvement retailer listed 600,000 shares at $12 per share to raise $7.2 million -- enough to build a handful of megastores in 1981.

In its first year of trading, this tiny over-the-counter stock soared more than 300% in value, but it remained off Wall Street's radar despite recording a 220% year-over-year increase in revenue and a 150% year-over-year jump in adjusted net income for its May quarter for 1982. In fact, the only mention of Home Depot in any of the nation's four largest newspapers during 1982 -- with the exception of a couple of stock quotes and one quarterly earnings blurb -- comes at the very end of The New York Times' annual list of the best stocks of the year. Home Depot recorded a gain of 273% that year, behind some stocks that recorded gains as great as 625%. None of those stocks with higher returns exist today in any recognizable form. Advantage, Home Depot.

First-day shareholders had a 10-bagger (1,000% gainer) on their hands five years after Home Depot's IPO, despite an early peak in 1983 that gave way to a period of relative stock mediocrity. This weakness was far in the rearview mirror as the 1980s ended, and on Sept. 22, 1989, first-day shareholders held shares worth 4,800% more than their IPO purchase price. Another two years of growth sent Home Depot's gain through the roof, and on the 10-year anniversary of the company's IPO, Home Depot shares were worth 17,000% more than they had been on the first day of trading in 1981. At the end of 1991, Home Depot recorded $4.8 billion in revenue and $220 million in net income, up from just $250 million in annual sales in 1984.

Shareholders who held on for two full decades following the company's IPO would have earned a 100,000% return. Despite representing a fairly significant slide from Home Depot's dot-com peak return of more than 190,000%, this is still one of the best baby-boom era returns to be found anywhere. This exceptional performance more than justified Home Depot's induction to the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) in 1999, at which point it became the only the second housing-focused company ever added to the index, after asbestos-materials manufacturer Johns-Manville.

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 insight into markets, history, and technology.

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