In America, we use elections to endorse candidates and IPOs to endorse companies--and by association, the ideas, products and people behind them. A positive public opening for a pioneering company can move the nation forward, as these nine IPOs did.
1781 • Bank of North America
In the midst of the Revolutionary War, the Bank of North America held the country's first IPO. Investors hiding cash in their carriages evaded British soldiers to be the first to buy stock in the American dream, officially.
1906 • Sears, Roebuck & Co.
Born on the rails of a young transcontinental railroad, Sears, Roebuck & Co. pioneered the grand American tradition of not leaving the house and having things delivered. The company's successful IPO, managed by a little outfit called Goldman, Sachs & Co., marked the rise of the consumer/retail sector as a national force, an alternative to the industrial stocks and banking that had been paying for America's top hats, tails and monocles until then.
1956 • Ford
IPO-resistant Henry Ford was nine years in the grave when this symbol of American independence raced into the largest public offering in its history, with 10.2 million shares priced at $64.50. Ford's IPO signaled a return of confidence in the stock market as shiny Thunderbirds ran down the last uncertainties lingering since the Great Depression.
1956 • Varian
Hewlett Packard was famously the biggest game in a young Silicon Valley. But Varian beat it to the IPO punch. This maker of Klystron tubes--which amplified radio and microwave frequencies--was the first Valley business to go public and also the first tenant in what became the Stanford Research Park.
1969 • Parks Sausage
Listed on the OTC market, Parks Sausage didn't technically have an IPO when it became a public company. Raymond V. Haysbert Sr. was only two generations removed from slavery when he flew with the Tuskegee Airman in World War II. After the war, he oversaw Baltimore-based Parks as it became the first African-American-owned business to go public--one year after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
1980 • Apple
Apple's Nasdaq opener generated more capital in its day than any IPO since Ford's. Even more important was its cultural significance: this was the first tech IPO to seed the Valley with baby-faced millionaires. A 25-year-old college dropout, Steve Jobs became a kind of Horatio Alger to a generation of degree-less geeks and tinkerers eager to turn their garages into incubators of wealth and power.
1995 • Netscape
Behold, the Internet! Some hail this Nasdaq IPO as the beginning of the dot-com revolution. Others bemoan it as the beginning of the dot.com bubble. Even more than its free browser, Netscape's big-time IPO--from $28 at its opening to $58 a share by closing--introduced Americans to the World Wide Web, according to "Mr. IPO" Jay Ritter, a University of Florida finance professor. Though Netscape sold to AOL in 1999, its alumni continued to shape the industry. Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, for example, had learned that there's no business like tech business, except for maybe the business of tech business. They went on to form one of the most influential VC firms in the country, Andreessen Horowitz.
1999 • Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia
A Polish divorcée from New Jersey appliqued a new life for herself as America's go-to source for domestic guidance. With her company's IPO, Stewart became the first female self-made billionaire in the United States--all while serving breakfast outside the NYSE. It was a big day for the earning power of female entrepreneurs, lifestyle gurus and frittatas.
2014 • Alibaba
When this Chinese e-commerce giant raised $25 billion on the NYSE, it became the largest global IPO in history and among the most synchronistic moments to date in East-West business relations. The New York Times described it as "perhaps the best chance yet to buy into [China's] growth." Even the CEO's backstory was made for American consumption: The indefatigable Jack Ma failed his college entrance exams and was rejected at KFC before borrowing $2,000 to start Alibaba.