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50 Years of Fun Economic History for Obama’s 50th Birthday

Stock market trivia from the past half-century

President Barack Obama turned 50 years old Thursday and celebrated with multiple birthday parties (and a little campaign fundraising) on his big day.

Since I am a big fan of stock market trivia, I thought it would be fun to throw together some fun facts about where the market and the nation’s economy was 50 years ago when Obama was born.

Some facts about the market are just interesting. Others — about the nation’s debts or unemployment rate — might make you long for better times. But, at any rate, here’s my fun list of 50 economic facts after Obama’s 50th birthday:

1. In May of 1961, the Dow closed above 700 for the first time ever.

2. The adjusted close for the Dow on Aug. 4, 1961, was 720.69.

3. That marked a 1,660% gain since the index debuted 65 years earlier at at 40.94 on May 26, 1896.

4. That’s almost 25% per year annually.

5. The stock market was in raging bull mode in 1961. The Dow was up for a roughly 400% gain in just 12 years, from a level around 150 in 1949.

6. That’s over 33% annually from 1949 to 1961.

7. Currently, the index is up 1,270% since that close of 720.69 in 1961.

8. Annualized, that’s about 25% a year.

9 to 29. Dow components in 1961 were:

  • Allied Chemical
  • Aluminum Company of America
  • American Can
  • American Telephone & Telegraph
  • American Tobacco B
  • Anaconda Copper
  • Bethlehem Steel
  • Chrysler
  • Du Pont
  • Eastman Kodak Company
  • General Electric Company
  • General Foods
  • General Motors Corporation
  • Goodyear
  • International Harvester
  • International Nickel
  • International Paper Company
  • Johns-Manville
  • Owens-Illinois Glass
  • Procter & Gamble Company
  • Sears Roebuck & Company
  • Standard Oil of California
  • Standard Oil (NJ)
  • Swift & Company
  • Texaco Incorporated (formerly Texas Company)
  • Union Carbide
  • United Aircraft
  • U.S. Steel
  • Westinghouse Electric
  • Woolworth

30. The only current components that were truly part of the 1961 Dow are General Electric (NYSE:GE), Alcoa (NYSE:AA), which was formerly known as the Aluminum Company of America, Dupont (NYSE:DD) and Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG). (You can make a complicated case for many others like American Telephone & Telegraph, for instance, which is just one thread of the tangled fabric of AT&T (NYSE:T) history — but let’s keep moving.)

31. Believe it or not, GE stock actually has outperformed the Dow since even after its meltdown during the financial crisis, up about 1,580 since August 1961 vs. 1,270% for the DJIA.

32. And Dupont has underperformed in an ugly way. The stock is up only about 680% since 1961, half the gains of the broader market. And it didn’t pay its first dividend until 1987.

33. Six Flags (NYSE:SIX) turns 50 this year too, born in 1961 as “Six Flags Over Texas” opened.

34. Imation (NYSE:IMN) brand Memorex got its start in 1961, too, focusing on computer tapes.

35. Publicly traded trucker J.B. Hunt (NASDAQ:JBHT) also is 50 in a few days, incorporated in Arkansas on Aug. 10, 1961.

36. Eyewear stock Luxotica (NYSE:LUX) also got its start in 1961, 50 years ago.

Now on to the bigger economic issues of 1961, some hard numbers with real impact and some fun marketing facts:

37. Unemployment was almost half what it is today, at just 5.5%

38. Minimum wage in 1961: $1.15 an hour.

39. Median family income 50 years ago was about $5,700 per year.

40. U.S. debt as a percentage of GDP was about 55% when Eisenhower left office. That was down from about 70% when he entered the White House in 1953, and about half the levels under Truman at the end of World War II about 16 years earlier.

41. The largest recorded strike in history ended — a 33 year spat by Danish barbers’ assistants. Strange barbers fixed a labor dispute right before the era of long hair… but true.

42. OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) is formally constituted.

43. In early 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower announced the U.S. would sever diplomatic relations with Cuba and soon would employ economic and trade sanctions.

44. Before leaving office, President Eisenhower also issued a warning with a now infamous phrase about the “military industrial complex” developing in America.

45. The first American astronaut, Navy Commander Alan B. Shepard, rockets 116.5 miles up, kicking off the history of manned space flight.

46. Frito corn chips appear on the snack food scene, marketed by the Frito Kid — predecessor to the Frito Bandito.

47. “Barbie” gets a boyfriend when the “Ken” doll is introduced. The move helps the Barbie line cement its status a toy store staple for decades to come.

48. Black & Decker introduced the first cordless power drill, powered by nickle-cadmium. Wives everywhere have less sympathy for husbands who claim they don’t have time to fix things around the house.

49. Ibuprofen was introduced to the public. It wouldn’t become available as an over-the-counter drug in 1984.

50. The Yankees would go on to win the World Series. Hey, it’s not strictly economic — but there’s too much money in those pinstripes these days to ignore a shoutout to the Mantle and Maris home run chase that year.

Jeff Reeves is the editor of As of this writing, he did not own a position in any of the stocks named here. Follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP and become a fan of InvestorPlace on Facebook.

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