Cisco Systems, Inc. (CSCO): A Short-Lived Battle to Be the Largest Tech Company of All Time

The EU before the EU
The European Union has a longer history than many people think. It was barely a decade after the close of World War II when six European nations signed the Treaty of Rome on Mar. 25, 1957, creating the European Economic Community, or EEC, popularly known as the Common Market. With its economic supremacy destroyed by the largest war humanity had ever seen, Europe faced a stark choice: cooperate or fall into irrelevance. France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg chose cooperation, unifying various economic policies under one common structure. Labor and capital enjoyed more free movement across European borders than had existed in decades — prior to the outbreak of World War I, the continent employed a surprisingly liberal spirit of economic cooperation.

The EEC became the foundation of the European Community in 1993 with the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, which helped shape the modern EU to this day. It took decades for Europe to grow closer together. Will it take decades more to complete the task, or will this continental experiment end in tragedy?

Color your world
RCA began producing the color TV that would set the industry standard on Mar. 25, 1954. It was not the first color TV, but it was the first to provide backward compatibility for black and white programming, which still dominated the airwaves. At a cost of $1,000 (about $8,000 today), the 15-inch RCA CT-100 didn’t claim a lot of living rooms, but it set the stage for the rise of NTSC television transmission in the U.S.

Within months, RCA came out with a 21-inch model for $895, but it would be years before consumers caught on to the color TV. When they did, it marked a permanent (with a few “artsy” exceptions) shift towards all color, all the time — on movies, TV, and eventually on computer screens, as well. The RCA CT-100 was later awarded the title of Greatest Gadget of All Time by Wired magazine’s readers in 2007.

The Big Standard steps up
Standard Oil of New Jersey, the largest of the Baby Standards and the most direct heir to Standard Oil’s legacy, began trading on the New York Stock Exchange on March 25, 1920. This was a long-overdue listing for what was already one of the world’s largest companies, and it was a direct reaction to Standard of New Jersey’s 1919 decision (then unprecedented among the Baby Standards) to raise $100 million through the sale of 7% preferred shares.

In 1919, Standard of New Jersey produced an immense amount of refined product: 8.8 million barrels of gasoline, 8.1 million barrels of “refined oils,” 12.6 million barrels of diesel-type fuel oils, 1.9 million barrels of lubricating oils, and 1.8 million barrels of other petroleum byproducts. Estimates for 1920 were for a 10% increase in these figures, which had produced nearly $60 million in profit for the completed year, equivalent to about $700 million in present terms. Standard of New Jersey was no longer the unchallenged oil-industry monopolist it had once been, but it had certainly carved out a substantial chunk of the roughly 500 million barrels of total American oil-production at the time.

Eight years later, Standard of New Jersey joined the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEXDJX:.DJI) when the index expanded to 30 components, and it has remained a component ever since. This makes it the second-oldest continuous member of the Dow — you know it today as Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM)

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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 Cisco Systems and NYSE Euronext. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft.

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