For Better or for Worse
From the Dust Bowl to the condo bubble--75 years is long enough for many reversals of fortune.
By Research by Kate Bonamici and Chris Zappone

(FORTUNE Magazine) – "The 75 public e-businesses closest to running out of cash... The farther out a company is from the sun, the more months it should survive." Feb. 5, 2001

How High the Bull?

The Dow Jones industrial average has vaulted 66% from its August 1982 low to the recent high of 1287--stocks are no longer cheap. Their dividend yields now pale before those of safe U.S. government bonds. The economic recovery that has given the stock market much of its thrust is slowing. Yet despite all the cautionary lights flashing on Wall Street, some of its wisest heads are plotting a line leading to 2000 on the Dow, or more, within three years.

-- Feb. 6, 1984

"In the Wall Street district alone, 850 miles of ticker-tape are used daily."

-- February 1930

The Great American Boom is on, and there is no measuring it; the old yardsticks won't do.... There is a powerful, a consuming demand for everthing that one can eat, wear, enjoy, burn, read, patch, dye, repair, paint, drink, see, smell, ride, taste, and rest in. The nylon is the symbol of 1946--at any given time of day, all over the U.S., thousands of women are patiently shuffling into hosiery stores.... Everything that is made is bought up as fast as it appears. There seems to be no bottom to the demand, no bottom to the American purse.

-- Sidney Olsen, "The Boom," June 1946

Some of the thousands of uranium miners who descended on Moab, Utah, and the surrounding plateaus during a rush on the heavy metal supported in part by the Atomic Energy Commission. August 1954

Skyscrapers: The Paper Spires

In February, 1930, the block on Fifth Avenue between Thirty-third and Thirty-fourth Streets in New York looked like a corner in Ypres. There were a few chunks of mortar and a few fragments of the walls of the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel along the north side of the block. There were a few newly excavated holes in the center. There was a long curving wooden ramp for the trucks. And that was all.

In February, 1930, the steel for the new Empire State Building to rise on the Waldorf site was pig iron and ore in Pennsylvania yards or metal under process in the mills of the U.S. Steel Corporation. The limestone was uncut blocks in the quarries of Indiana or a part, still, of the underpinning of that resounding state. The bricks were clay in the clay banks of New York.

And already in February, 1930, the Empire State Building existed. It existed not only on paper but in time. It leaned forward in a definite and certain sequence from that February day to a day fifteen months in the future when the calendrical earth should have swung its foundations into their final place beneath the last flag rope on the roof.

--September 1930

"The Worst, Most Ruinous, Costliest drought in U.S. history : Roundabout the first of May, 1933, in many parts of the Dakotas, it quit raining, and the barbecue began. "

-- James Agee, October 1934

The War of 1939, special insert

During the night of Thursday, August 31, while this issue of FORTUNE was being sent to the printer for final closing, Hitler marched into Poland. All night the teletype rattled out the unbelievable news. Little groups of writers and researchers stood in the editorial offices reading the long streamers of tape, stumbling for the first time over the strange Polish names, and returning to their desks to finish up their jobs as best they could.... So in the dawn the staff finished "October." And they walked out among the gray deserted buildings of the city with the feeling that they had closed, not an issue of the magazine, but an era in human affairs.

--October 1939

Research by Kate Bonamici and Chris Zappone