Most INC. 100 companies are under a decade old, but the roots of Harvard Industries Inc. (#72), of St. Louis, go back to the last century. Thereby hangs a tale; Burton Abrams, director and unwitting company historian, tells it:

19th century: A small brewery is established in Virginia.

Circa 1900: The brewery moves to Massachusetts. Using the name of a venerable neighbor, it becomes Harvard Brewing Co.

1919: Prohibition takes hold, forcing the company out of business.

1932: Anticipating repeal of Prohibition, a company at least indirectly controlled by German businessman Wilhelm von Opel reactivates the old brewery.

1933: Harvard goes public in the depths of the Great Depression as FDR initiates the New Deal.

1936: Harvard College brings unsuccessful suit to stop the brewery from using the name and a crimson logo.

1942: The U.S. government, acting through the Alien Properties Custodian, seizes the Opel group's assets, including Harvard Brewing.

1955-56: The United States sells controlling interest in Harvard Brewing to a private citizen interested in making it a working brewery again.

1956: The new owner sells his Harvard stock to a New York private-label brewery.

1957: Harvard is merged into two real estate firms. Now the erstwhile purveyor of ale is landlord to federal workers at Fort Knox.

1959: Divested of all properties but Everglades Bank in Florida, Harvard is sold to new owners who begin turning it into an electronics company. They hire William Hurley, an engineer, to head up the effort. The company emerges as a government contractor.

1967: Says Burton Abrams, "A fellow who worked at the Securities and Exchange Commission took [Harvard's] file home one weekend and never showed up for work on Monday. Neither he nor the file was ever heard from again."

1984: Hurley, now majority shareholder and chief executive officer, begins a program of acquisition to wean Harvard from its reliance on government contracts. Targeting firms that make aeronautical and automotive products, Harvard makes three major acquisitions in 13 months.

1986: Harvard makes the INC. 100.