When GM Was Still in Ford's Rearview Mirror

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On this day in economic and financial history...

General Motors spent much of its early history in Ford's shadow. While Ford pioneered the assembly line and introduced the car culture to the masses, General Motors underwent a series of dramatic restructurings at the hands of risk-taking founder William C. Durant. However, by Feb. 22, 1923, it began to seem possible that GM might be able to challenge Ford's dominance when the millionth Chevrolet rolled off GM's assembly line.

Chevrolet was Durant's brainchild during his first exile from GM. Between 1911 and 1915, he built the company from its founding to a size worthy of GM's attention. After engineering a GM buyout of Chevy, Durant returned to his former company's helm and positioned Chevy as GM's answer to the Ford Model T. It took eight more years after that millionth Chevy for Chevrolet to displace Ford. Ford built its millionth Model T in the year GM acquired Chevy, and its 10 millionth came a year after Chevy's millionth auto. However, GM was the first to market (Ford didn't go public until 1956), and its rising fortunes earned it an extended stay on the Dow Jones Industrial Average beginning in 1925. This was well justified, as GM leveraged the strength of its multiple marquees into auto-industry leadership by 1931, when it finally displaced Ford at the top of the sales charts.

GM held this title for 77 years before finally losing the sales crown to Toyota in 2008. A year later, it was bankrupt, and an 84-year streak of index membership came to an end.

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Extra butter, please
The Western world got its first taste of popcorn on Feb. 22, 1630, when a group of Native Americans brought the tasty snack to a Thanksgiving dinner held by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The United States has remained the world's leading producer of popcorn ever since, with roughly 500,000 tons of the puffy stuff produced every year. About 115,000 tons of that popcorn was exported in 2011. That's a whole lot of Jiffy Pop!

ConAgra not only manufactures Jiffy Pop, but also produces Orville Redenbacher's, Act II, and the caramel-coated Crunch 'n Munch, as well as other bulk popcorn brands. All told, the industrial agriculture company is responsible for roughly half the popcorn produced in the U.S.

All-American Sunshine State
The Florida Purchase Treaty (officially the Adams-Onis Treaty) delivered Florida into the hands of the U.S. when it was signed on Feb. 22, 1819. Spanish claims to the territory had grown increasingly tenuous following America's successful war for independence, and a number of American settlers had already moved into the state, lured by the same things that have since drawn millions of retirees: a warm climate and all the alligators you can eat. Spain had no resources to maintain this territory after its fierce battles with Napoleonic France, so Florida was essentially ceded in exchange for the U.S. assuming $5 million in outstanding claims against the Spanish crown.

Today, Florida is the fourth-largest state, by GDP and by population, in the U.S. Although it lacks the heavy concentration of industry found in California, Texas, and New York, Florida does have a few notables. Its largest company by revenue is currently World Fuel Services, which claimed the 85th spot on 2012's Fortune 500 with nearly $35 billion in revenue.

The article When GM Was Still in Ford's Rearview Mirror originally appeared on Fool.com.

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. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. 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.

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