Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) & 3M Co (MMM): How This Duo Justified Their Place on the Dow

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On this day in economic and business history …

Microsoft CorporationTwo members of the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached important development milestones on April 6. One would have far-reaching effects on the global computer industry. The other would provide the world’s offices with another helpful tool for productive work. The Dow also reached 9,000 points for the first time in its history on April 6, 1998, and you can learn about that event by clicking here to read more. Let’s look at what happened on April 6 throughout the history of business and finance.

The frontier road to riches
John Jacob Astor established the American Fur Company on April 6, 1808. Astor was already a wealthy man from the fur trade, but it was through this company, and its later subsidiaries, that he became America’s wealthiest man, and its first multimillionaire.

Born in Germany in 1763, Astor emigrated to London at age 16. There, he learned English and learned of the vast frontiers of America, where intrepid men might make their fortunes. Astor traveled to America just after the close of the Revolutionary War, working with his brother at a butcher shop and in musical-instrument sales before settling on the fur trade as his path to glory.

The 1794 Jay Treaty between Britain and the United States opened new markets for Astor’s thriving fur business. Within a year he controlled a dozen ships. Five years later he was worth a quarter of a million dollars. The ill-advised Embargo Act from President Thomas Jefferson nearly undid Astor’s business, which was one of the motivating factors behind American Fur’s establishment after the embargo was terminated. The War of 1812 was another major setback, as Astor was forced to sell Fort Astoria (a settlement in present-day Oregon). As if to make up for its repeated obstruction, the American government barred foreign fur traders in 1817, which would provide Astor with the protection needed to monopolize America’s fur trade. By the 1830s he was out of the trade, a millionaire several times over.

Astor then turned his attention to real estate, particularly in the relatively underdeveloped New York City borough of Manhattan. His investments paid off handsomely as New York grew into the nation’s financial center, and by the time of his death, Astor was by far the wealthiest man in the United States. More than $20 million in assets were disbursed in his will, which has been estimated to be worth roughly $115 billion, when calculated against the gross national product of the time.

A window to domination
Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) released Windows 3.1 on April 6, 1992. The first real Windows experience for millions of thirtysomethings (and older twentysomethings), 3.1 proved more stable than the version 3.0 it replaced and offered greater support for multimedia. This provided the first real impetus for game design on the operating system over simply designing for a DOS environment. Microsoft also took a page from the Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) playbook by implementing TrueType fonts on 3.1, the first time it had made a genuine effort to appeal to the design-oriented user. Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) actually licensed TrueType from Apple at no cost, which seems a bit odd to consider in light of the fact that Apple and Microsoft were in the process of wrapping up a contentious copyright-infringement lawsuit over similarities between Windows and the Macintosh operating system.

Windows 3.1 came bundled with most new computers sold at the time and effectively locked in millions of users by the time Windows 95 came out three years later. By this point, Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) was already one of the hottest tech companies in a hot tech boom, but Windows 3.1 only lit a larger fire beneath it. From the time Windows 3.1 was released to the turn of the new millennium, Microsoft’s shares grew an incredible 2,200%, creating the most valuable company of all time.

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