The Lone Member of the Dow's Century Club

On this day in economic and financial history...

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) has hosted several companies for decades, but only one has become a member of the century club -- and then some. On Nov. 7, 1907, the Dow welcomed General Electric (NYS: GE) back into its ranks after an eight-year absence. GE has been a member continuously since that time, following the Dow's progress from an initial roster of just 12 stocks to a more inclusive list of 30 leading companies today.

1907 was more notable for a financial panic that indirectly led to the creation of the Federal Reserve, but GE had its fair share of headlines that year as well. Shortly after joining the Dow, GE was the target of unfounded merger rumors regarding Westinghouse Electric, its fiercest competitor and, several years later, a fellow Dow component. The company also had to fend off rumors that it would cut a significant number of jobs, which forced its president to tell the press that "I would much prefer to see all our men employed, even though they were required to reduce their working time to four or five days each week."

The week GE joined the Dow, its market cap was a reported $65.2 million. A century later, as the global economy neared disaster, GE's market cap had grown to $395 billion for an annualized growth rate of 9.1%, not including reinvested dividends. The Dow has benefited tremendously from GE's inclusion, as the index only gained 5.6% per year, on average, over the same 100-year period.

Welcome to the Computer Age
Hewlett-Packard (NYS: HPQ) is synonymous with low-cost computing today, but its original business focus was a bit less high-tech. Nine years and one day after going public, HP officially became a computer company on Nov. 7, 1966, when it introduced its first integrated-circuit machine at the start of the 1966 San Francisco Fall Joint Computer Conference, held a short drive from the HP headquarters in Palo Alto.

The HP 2116A was quickly put to work on the Chain, a research vessel of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. It was HP's single-largest mechanical package up to that time and was one of the first computers to come complete with an integrated software package. This made it useful for controlling and tracking multiple sensitive lab instruments. The 2116A was so successful that HP went on to become the fourth-largest minicomputer manufacturer in just over a decade. This distinction undoubtedly helped HP claim the lead in desktop microcomputer sales around the same time, before the PC battles of the 1980s radically restructured the computing landscape.

When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight
The world's first air freight shipment took place on Nov. 7, 1910, when a Wright Brothers Model B biplane carried bolts of silk from Dayton, Ohio, to nearby Columbus. A century later, cargo transport has grown to account for about 15% of all worldwide air-transport revenue.

In the U.S., this was worth $26.1 billion to domestic cargo-carriers, which hauled approximately 67.8 million tons of freight to American airports. Memphis International received the most freight, which isn't surprising, given its role as FedEx's (NYS: FDX) primary American hub airport. The world's largest air-freight carrier, FedEx operates 654 aircraft around the world, carrying more than 7 million pounds every day.

Second-place UPS (NYS: UPS) , by comparison, owns 229 aircraft and charters 298 more. Its main air hub, at Louisville, serves 252 flights per day and can sort a staggering 416,000 packages per hour. The pilot of that Wright Brothers biplane couldn't have imagined such scope a century ago. What cargo innovation comes next? With a little work, it might be unmanned delivery craft, flying right to your door.

GE might have something to say about the next step in cargo transport, as it's one of the world's leading aircraft engine manufacturers. GE has spent more than a century pursuing opportunities and achieving growth in new arenas. Will its next century be as successful as its first? The Fool's best industrial analysts have devoted themselves to answering that question, and the result is an in-depth premium research report, regularly updated with important news and insightful analysis. Want to stay ahead of the Street on GE? Click here to subscribe now for a full year of access.

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