The 21st century is all about entrepreneurs: everyone is encouraged to be his or her own boss, and the most admired people are those who have ideas that can be commercialized. It wasn’t long ago that “success” meant working at the same job in the same corporation for a lifetime — starting a company likely took more courage and willingness to deviate from the norm in the 1900’s.
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As a salute to those forerunners, take a look at the top 10 best companies created in the 20th century.
Founded in 1927 in Texas, USA, as a chain of small stores that sold ice and groceries, 7-Eleven adopted its current name in 1946 and its mode of operating 24 hours a day in 1969. It is now the largest convenience store chain in the world, according to its website, and the largest retailer in the world as of 2011, according to CNN. 7-Eleven is now Japanese-owned, which is logical because more than 19,000 of its over 60,000 stores are located in Japan, according to its website. It is also the largest convenience store chain in Taiwan, which has at least five competing chains as well as the highest convenience store density in the world, reports Wall Street Journal and Focus Taiwan. Basically, convenience stores are huge in Asia, and 7-Eleven lords over them all. The company made $37.47 billion US in sales in 2015.
Fast food may not be any healthier than convenience store food, but health food is not the goal of McDonald’s. Established in 1940 in Illinois, USA, McDonald’s might rank second to Subway (founded in 1965) in the number of restaurant chains, but the former is first place in estimated worth as of 2017, according to the Financial Post. Forbes estimates McDonald’s is worth $110.1 billion as of 2016. The company also funds the Ronald McDonald House Charities and other charitable initiatives. Because of the low prices of its menu items and the simplicity of its “McJobs,” McDonald’s is often blamed for sociopolitical problems such as poverty, obesity, and low entry-level wages. Blaming the Band-Aid, however, doesn’t treat the wound. McDonald’s continues to weather through storms by serving cheap, tasty food that you can’t really make at home — which is more than what you can say about the coffee from Starbucks (established in 1971).
8. New York City Ballet
Before you decide all the best companies deal with food, check out New York City Ballet (NYCB), the ballet company with the largest repertoire in the US. Founded in 1948 by star dancer/choreographer George Balanchine, the father of modern ballet and the man who established the thin, leggy look most ballerinas still conform to today, NYCB has cultivated dancers such as Mikhail Baryshnikov, whose estimated worth of $45 million makes him the richest ballet dancer in the world, according to The Richest. A Ballet Education names NYCB’s school, the School of American Ballet (SAB), as the best ballet school and NYCB as the best ballet company in the US as of 2016. Although not as long-standing as some — Paris Opera Ballet was founded in 1669 and Russia’s Bolshoi in 1776 — this company is certainly doing its part for art and culture in North America.
7. Penguin Books
Another champion for culture is Penguin Books, which was founded in 1935 in London, United Kingdom. It is one of the Big Four or Big Five in the publishing industry, depending on your sources, alongside HarperCollins (formed in 1989 by merging two companies founded in the 19th century). Penguin, then worth $1 billion, merged with Random House in 2013 to fend off Amazon, according to Business Insider. The resulting company, Penguin Random House, is “the world’s largest book publisher” as of January 2017, reports The Guardian. Penguin Books continues to operate and publish excellent editions of books, without stooping to carry those books alongside rabbit meat, cheap gadgets, and terrible self-published erotica like digital book seller Amazon (founded in Washington, USA, in 1994).
It might not be as famous as the Penguin Books penguin, but take a close look at your wardrobe and you’ll see that most of the zippers bear a “YKK” logo. Founded in 1934 in Tokyo, Japan, YKK actually sells more “architectural products” (over $3.5 billion US in sales in 2015) than “fastening products” (nearly $3 billion) according to its website. The $3 billion worth of zippers that cost only pennies each, however, “make roughly half of all the zippers on earth,” according to Slate. The earliest form of the zipper was not invented until 1891, but by 1969, the first human to walk on the moon “wore a space suit using YKK zippers,” notes Forbes. YKK — which went through several name changes prior to 1994 — is now known for “incredibly dependable zippers in a wide range of colors, materials, and styles” and “speed of production.” This is one company that won’t be shaken by cheap, Chinese-made imitations.
Speaking of knock-offs, Nike Inc. is “the most counterfeited brand” in the world as of 2014, according to World Trademark Review. Established in 1964 in Oregon, USA, by a university athlete, Nike was merely a distributor of Japanese sneakers until the seventies. The company took over the Converse brand in 2003 and is worth $100.1 billion as of 2016, according to Forbes. Although its factory conditions may be questionable, its charitable and environmental protection efforts are impressive — “71 percent of its footwear now contains materials made from waste products from its own manufacturing process,” reports Huffington Post. The company also sells the “material made from recycled sneakers, plastic bottles, and manufacturing scraps to buyers who use them to line running tracks, playgrounds, gym floors, and carpet underlay.” Nike is truly a rags-to-riches story in itself.
Much further up the design and development hierarchy, D-Wave Systems Inc. is the first and only company to build and sell quantum computers, according to Nanalyze. The start-up was founded in 1999 in in Burnaby, BC, Canada — a surprisingly small town for machines of such scope. In 2015 D-Wave released the D-Wave 2X, surpassing the 1000-qubit mark. Google released results that supported D-Wave’s claims at the end of the same year, silencing many critics, according to WIRED. Regardless of the media’s rehashing of old questions and the public’s lack of understanding, D-Wave soldiers on and expects to release a 2000-qubit system in the first quarter of 2017. As of 2017, the company has sold or leased its computers to an undeniably impressive list of clients: Google, Lockheed Martin, and NASA’s Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau even made the news when he talked about quantum computing in 2016, notes Gizmodo and Washington Post. This is definitely a technology for the future.
The 20th century wasn’t all about computers, but we simply can’t leave out International Business Machines Corp., or IBM. Founded in 1911 in New York, USA, the company invented magnetic swipe cards, automatic teller machines (ATM), floppy disks, and those barcodes on every product you buy, according to its website. IBM also invented laser eye surgery, employee clock-in machines, and standardized test bubble sheets, according to Popular Mechanics. Bloomberg calls IBM “a pioneer” that “developed the rails, pipes, and standards on which other elements of the payment system — such as credit cards and point-of-sale terminals — would eventually depend.” Forbes values IBM at $142.7 billion as of May 2016, making it the “number three most valuable brand in the world,” according to Venture Beat. IBM is also one of the world’s largest employers, just ahead of McDonald’s, according to USA Today. Oh, and its computers aren’t bad, either.
Toyota Motor Corp. was established in 1937 — incidentally, the same year as Germany’s Volkswagen — in Toyota (then known as Koromo), Aichi, Japan. As the world’s largest car manufacturer as of 2016, according to the Telegraph, Toyota vehicles are popular and trusted worldwide. It is also the first and largest manufacturer to mass produce and promote the use of hybrid cars such as the Prius, with global sales “surpassing 9.014 million units as of April 30, 2016,” according to the company. Toyota plans to have a global environmental impact “as close to zero as possible,” lowering carbon emissions by 90 percent from 2010 levels by 2050 — not too bad for the less green alternative to cycling and taking public transit. Forbes estimates the company worth at over $200 billion as of 2016, which is “greater than that of General Motors, Ford, and Honda combined.”
It’s hard to believe the now-ubiquitous Google was born less than 20 years ago, but the company was founded in 1998 in California, USA. Besides more high-tech explorations in anything related to information — such as the quantum computing mentioned earlier in this list — it offers a wide array of free services that benefit even the least computer savvy among us: Gmail, Google Maps, and of course, Google search. Although it is not the oldest search engine, “Google has vanquished all challengers in search over the years,” notes Fortune. Google is worth $113.7 billion as of 2016 according to Venture Beat or $527 billion as of 2015 according to CNN, making it second only to Apple in the world. Unlike Apple, however, its image has less to do with luxury electronics and sweatshops and more to do with information and the public good. In 2016, Google pledged to increase diversity and inclusion among its ranks. What’s not to like?
If you’re wondering why companies such as Procter & Gamble and Levi’s aren’t listed, it’s because they’re older than they look. Not only has the previous century seen an upsurge of innovative companies in the arts and sciences, it has also given rise to notable charities such as Rotary International, World Wildlife Fund, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Let’s hope the upward trend continues in the 21st century.