Key Moments in the Rise of 3 Dow Stocks

On this day in economic and business history...

Three of the Dow Jones Industrial Average's most followed components have experienced huge milestones on Oct. 1. One launched one of its most famous product and completed its most notable acquisition. Another went public, providing savvy investors with one of the best long-term investment opportunities of the past 50 years. And a subsidiary of our final component made its public debut, introducing the world to one of its most beloved entertainment franchises. Let's take a look at the ways October has shaped these three components.

A rising tide of consumer products
The first day of October has been doubly valuable to Procter & Gamble . Tide, one of the company's greatest product successes, began rolling out into its first test markets on Oct. 1, 1946. This popular detergent, which seems so mundane today, was a huge breakthrough at the time -- P&G President Neil McElroy, talking to Time in 1953, called it "the first big change in soapmaking in 2,000 years." It was the world's first widely successful synthetic detergent, and its development and production required a whole new type of manufacturing process -- Davis Dyer, Frederick Dalzell, and Rowena Olegario wrote about Tide's development in Rising Tide, which includes a detailed look at the complex new process.

After working through many development difficulties, P&G began to roll out the product, branding it as the "Washday Miracle" because of its greater sudsiness and superior cleaning capabilities. The launch was perfectly timed to capitalize on the postwar spread of automatic washing machines, and this timing went a long way toward establishing the brand as an ideal detergent for the newfangled washers. Tide helped P&G consolidate its hold on the soap market and absolutely dominate detergents: The company's share of all domestic soap sales had grown from 30% before the Depression to 40% five years after the first test markets got their hands on Tide, and P&G also controlled a whopping 69% of the detergent market. This dominance has proven durable: Even today, P&G's various laundry products still account for more than a quarter of the total global fabric-care market.

Exactly 59 years later, on Oct. 1, 2005, P&G completed the biggest acquisition in its history, and Gillette became a part of the world's largest consumer-products company. Finalizing the $57 billion acquisition vaulted Procter & Gamble over rival Unilever in market cap, revenue, and net income. It retains that position of global consumer-goods leadership to this day.

Click here to read more about the history of Gillette, including a look at the unique vision that made the company synonymous with the popular business cliche "razors and blades."

Low, low IPO prices
Shares of Wal-Mart went public on Oct. 1, 1970 at a price of $16.50 per share. The "Midwest discount and variety chain," in the words of the brief New York Times blurb announcing its entry to the public markets, was eight years old and already boasted 38 locations with $44 million in annual sales. It joined the New York Stock Exchange two years later, and by then its stock had already split once and its footprint had grown to 51 stores with $78 million in annual sales.

Rapid growth demanded a number of share splits in order to keep up with the company's rising valuation, and by the 30th anniversary of Wal-Mart's IPO a single share had grown into 2,048 shares. Although Wal-Mart has not split its shares since, those 2,048 shares were worth $109,281 on its 40th IPO anniversary, not counting the addition of shares gained through any reinvested dividends. That works out to an annualized growth rate of 24.6%, which certainly makes Wal-Mart one of the best stocks -- if not the best stock -- that you could have owned over the past half-century.

Origins of a superhero factory
Timely Publications' Marvel Comics No. 1 was published in October 1939. The original Marvel comic book marks the first appearance of the original Human Torch and Namor the Sub-Mariner. Its first issue sold nearly 900,000 copies across two printings, and by 1941 the launch of the first Captain America comic gave the publishing house its first comic superstar. Cap's first issue, created by industry legends Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, also sold nearly 1 million copies.

Timely formally changed its name to Marvel in 1961. By the end of the 1960s, Kirby and Stan Lee (originally hired as an office assistant in 1939) had created many of the comics world's biggest franchises, including the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and the Avengers. The company struggled against rival DC Comics in the 1980s, but returned to prominence in the early 1990s, a period coinciding with the company's IPO as Marvel Entertainment Group. Marvel Entertainment fell into bankruptcy in 1996 after an industry-wide slump, but again rebounded after a merger with Toy Biz.

A rejuvenated Marvel helped reignite the flagging genre of superhero movies after the 1997 implosion of Batman & Robin, featuring George Clooney's bat-nipples. The release of X-Men in 2000 was the first step on Marvel's road to dominance of the superhero film genre -- 13 years later, 15 of the top 25 highest-grossing superhero films starred Marvel characters, and all 15 of these (including the first X-Men) were released after the start of the new millennium. DC Comics, by comparison, claims only seven of the top 25 spots on the all-time superhero movie rankings. This phenomenal branding success led Disney to acquire Marvel for $4 billion in 2009. Since The Avengers alone grossed $1.5 billion at the global box office for Disney, it seems to be money well spent.

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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 NYSE Euronext, Procter & Gamble, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. 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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