Business plays a critical role in American society. It’s the driver of the country’s $21.43 trillion gross domestic product and provides some 125.9 million jobs. Entire government agencies and offices, like the Small Business Administration, Women’s Business Centers, the U.S. Copyright Office, and the Federal Financial Literacy and Education Commission, are devoted to giving Americans the tools, support, and protection they need to establish prosperous companies. Businesses are also a key part of the country’s discourse, receiving heavy discussion among politicians and the media alike.
But business also feels like a deep part of American culture. Some 6 million people recently spent their Friday night watching quirky entrepreneurs pitch their innovative start-ups on “Shark Tank.” Extremely successful business owners from both the past (Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford) and the present (Oprah Winfrey and Larry Page) are viewed like idols who figured out what it takes to make it in this country. We make shopping lists specific to Small Business Saturday so we can support our local businesses. And what American hasn’t felt the tug toward entrepreneurship, even if they have yet to make that leap? Business, it seems, runs through our blood as a country.
So how did entrepreneurism get put on such a pedestal across the nation? To learn about how business has evolved throughout modern U.S. history, Stacker compiled a list of important milestones from 1921 to 2020. We used information from universities, news outlets, business- and finance-focused publications, companies, and more. Some moments—like a law passed in 1988 that made it illegal for banks to require a male co-signer on business loans for women—are sure to surprise you. While others, like college drop-outs launching incredibly successful companies out of their garages, and the rise of women and people of color to executive positions at Fortune 500 companies, will inspire you.
Wondering what happened in business history the year you were born? Read on to find out.