The Fortune 500, 1955 to 2010

Since 1955, Fortune Magazine has published a list of America's 500 largest companies. What companies have risen to the top? Which ones have fallen? Ben Fry, of Fathom Information Design, visualizes the companies of past and present and how their rankings, revenue, and profit have changed.

The interactive piece lets you select companies, which highlights an individual time series as well as provides a sense of distribution over time with the light gray marks. As you switch between measures and turn inflation adjustment on and off, smooth transitions let you keep track of what you're interested in.

Because this is more of a proof of concept that Fry sketched during a train ride, there are a few kinks. For example, it's hard to see the individual values for a single company, because the dots are too small for the time series. You just end up selecting another company. You're supposed to be able to press the left and right arrow keys to move back and forth, but it doesn't work for me. It's easy to see though how, with a bit more development, this could be useful for other data and how a bunch of numbers can be made easily digestible.

[The Fortune 500]

15 Comments

  • arrow keys work fine for me (FF7). this is an awesome display, even if it is a bit rough.

  • Try clicking on the most profitable company today. The curve that you get is an impressive illustration of the power and greed of petrol companies over 55 years.

    • True, but also look at GE (#4 in 2010). Just like the petrol firms, they’ve stayed near the top of both rankings and profits. They’ve never lost money. Power and greed? Contrast this with Ford (#8 in 2010). While they’ve stayed near the top of the rankings they’ve had several years of significant losses. They’ve probably got just as much greed but not quite as much power.

    • @Tom, @Marc PR,
      While your statements might be true. To a certain degree I’m sure all companies, and no companies applies to that statement about -G R E E D-. I tend to be less judgmental or jumping to conclusions based upon what little I can grasp from the data presented, or the intent which drove those results. I might even assert it seems to be a more direct correlation that successful larger corporations are more inclined to employ more people; drive more of the economy; promote greater commerce, enable new technologies, promote healthier communities, pay more taxes; and are generally better stewards that create better ROI. [yes-that's a broad generality. So goes the saying: "the grass is always greener on the other side."]

  • Beautifully done. The profit view looks like a DNA profile. Do you think that is intentional?

  • great chart. Functionally speaking, this “interactive” chart is driving me nuts. Add a search key or allow me to lock onto a specific company please! The purpose of an interactive is so I can refer to it time and time again for different measurements of data. Anyone wanting to use the stat will be sitting there clicking endlessly to try to hit the same data point they’re searching for.

  • Anyone know why revenue shows a sudden jump in 1995? Order by revenue. It almost seems like it went from a Fortune 500 list to a Fortune 250 or something. I checked the data via a Wikipedia link and it seems that the graphic is correct with what Fortune has on their website. Look at Dow Corning, (last in rank on 1995). They were @ a rank of 216 in 1994 to 500 in 1995 and their revenue didn’t change much. Did America magically add another 250 companies? :)

    Makes me wonder if there were some revenue rule changes during that time. As always, a good graphic, draws me in, teaches me something, and then leaves me asking more questions!

    • Christine Jerritts September 28, 2011 at 10:58 am

      @Kris I had the same reaction to the change in 1995 – the Fortune 500 wiki page states “The original Fortune 500 was restricted to companies whose revenues were derived from manufacturing, mining, or energy exploration,” so my guess is this must of been the year other industries were included? Looking at the Top 30 by Rank roughly half are new in 1995 although they are not new companies, e.g. Wal-Mart, Bank of America, Costco, Verizon, etc.

      • Ah yes, that’s what it is. I scrolled through a list of companies in 1995 and number of them were stores or services. Insurance, Wal-Mart, UPS, Health, etc.etc.

  • @Kris I was just graduating college back then, but I think it was the beginning of the Dot Com Boom. While many companies may not have a Dot Com presence, it was more of a case of a high tide raises all boats. Note during the same time, many companies started, and note also many had very low profits given revenue. [of course, I could be wrong]

    Thanks for the question though. I was curious too after you point out the observation.

  • I quote like this.. could use some polish, sure, but as a proof of concept it’s pretty interesting.

    One question : What does the width of each small grey hash mark represent? Anything? (Maybe it’s obvious and I’m missing it?

  • ben talked about this at the boston data visualization meetup last night. the gray hash marks are actually the names just really tiny. he thought you might be able to zoom into the details of the chart at some point.

  • @Will, @ursonate – thanks – I like the visual it ends up with.

    I have (several…) massive datasets that sort of lend themselves to this type of display (large universe of items with a time-series metric worth putting into a broader context). I may tinker with what that ‘grey hash’ could mean – sort of a 3rd dimension – though zooming to see a name is pretty interesting in itself.

  • This is an outstanding tool. I introduced time plots in my stats class today and showed a plot with two time series. I asked the class how many series would be too many for one plot. They thought that four or five would be the maximum.

    Then I showed them this tool with 500 points per year and talked about how traditional statistical displays are great, but modern technology allows us to do much, much more.