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Justin Fox

The Fall, Rise and Fall of Creative Destruction

What's the lifespan of a company in the age of startups and tech disruption? Longer than it used to be.
Some things really haven't changed much.

Some things really haven't changed much.

Photographer: Ezequiel Becerra/AFP/Getty Images

Forbes turned 100 this month. So of course the magazine had to throw a big party, with Warren Buffett and Stevie Wonder singing a duet. And of course it had to run an article in its anniversary issue looking back at the biggest U.S. corporations of 100 years ago and ruminating on the "creative destruction" of American capitalism. The piece includes a list of the 50 largest of 1917, ranked by assets. Here are the top 15:

When I look at lists like this I'm never quite sure if I'm supposed to be amazed by how much has changed or by how much has stayed the same. The top three of 1917 are still with us, after all. U.S. Steel Corp. is of course much diminished, but AT&T Inc. and what is now called Exxon Mobil Corp. (Standard Oil of New Jersey changed its name to Exxon in 1972, No. 15 Standard Oil of New York changed its name to Mobil in 1966, and the two merged in 1999) are among the biggest, most powerful, most valuable U.S. corporations of 2017. So are No. 8 DuPont, although it recently merged with rival Dow to become DowDuPont Inc., and No. 11 General Electric Co.