The Library Springfield-Greene County Library District Springfield, Missouri

The Downturn Road to Success

Who would be crazy enough to launch a business when the economy is setting off alarm bells left, right, and center?  Well, some of the country's largest and best-known businesses, actually.  Read on:

The Panic of 1873 had held the nation in its grip for five long years.  Nonetheless, Thomas Edison was optimistic enough about a radically new technology to start the Edison Electric Light Company.  Later General Electric, GE today is a multinational conglomerate with products and services as diverse as railroad locomotives and pipeline inspection.

The US was still climbing out of the Great Depression in 1939.  Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard had rented a 12x18 garage in what would later be known as Silicon Valley.  The garage served as research lab, development workshop, and manufacturing facility.  Hewlett-Packard, built upon an investment of $538, earned $104 billion in 2007.  The broad-based IT company's fourth-quarter 2009 net revenue was $30.8 billion.

Today Trader Joe's has more than 325 upscale grocery stores, including several in the St. Louis area; their forte is innovative, hard-to-find items.  They started as the Pronto Markets convenience store chain during the economic doldrums of 1958.  (Yes, there was--and still is--a Trader Joe.)

Also during the Eisenhower Recession of '58, IHOP's initial location opened in California.  The last of the iconic A-frame IHOPs was built in 1983.  Since their acquisition of Applebee's in 2007, the company has been called DineEquity.  Their more than 2,300 stores under both brands have struggled in recent years.

The petroleum crisis of 1973 sent the country hurtling into a steep economic decline.  Hoping to get a contract for overnight delivery service from the Federal Reserve, Federal Express was founded in Little Rock.  Stymied by red tape in Little Rock, the company soon moved to adjacent Memphis.  From precarious beginnings, the FedEx Memphis World Hub now handles 3.3 million packages--per day.

Upon its launch in recessionary 1980, CNN took on the untested proposition that there was actually an audience for 24-hour news coverage.  Now one of the world's largest news organizations, CNN quickly altered the nature of TV news; broadcast networks that had held back material for their own evening broadcasts began to offer it to affiliates throughout the day.

Weathering the 9/11 downturn, Wikipedia also weathered rocky technical and logistical problems as well as questions about its accuracy, role, and scope.  Presently Wikipedia has more than thirteen million articles in 271 languages.  German (900,000 articles) is second to English (three million); Cheyenne, spoken by 1,700 Native Americans, has 62 articles.  Wikipedia's financial situation has always been at least somewhat tenuous.

Find this article at