Rust in Peace, United States Steel

The world—and the dollar— has changed so much since 1901 that it would be hard to know exactly how much the $480 million John Peirpont Morgan paid for U.S. Steel that year would be worth in today’s money, but let’s say conservatively that it would be more than $17 billion. That money went straight to the company’s owners, principally Andrew Carnegie Explore this without leaving the page. and Henry Clay Frick , instantly making them among the richest men who had ever lived. But then Morgan turned right around and listed U.S. Steel on the New York Stock Exchange, raising more than $1.4 billion—something close to $50.6 billion today—in the largest initial public offering in history . We also have to bear in mind, of course, how much more of the economy is in investments now than 122 years ago. Imagine what Morgan could have gotten if 58 percent of Americans were plowing money into the market through their mutual funds and 401(k)s instead of stuffing it under their mattresses. Whatever the newly listed U.S. Steel would have been worth today, it wouldn’t be $14.1 billion, which is how much Japanese steel manufacturer Nippon Steel agreed this week to pay for the rusted-out hulk of the company that Carnegie, Frick, and Morgan made. To turn the telescope around, that $14.1 billion in today’s dollars would have had the buying power of about $31 million in 1901. So what if U.S. Steel is worth less as a company than Best Buy ? Graveyards are full of seemingly indispensable corporations, right? Pile up the stricken over there with all the other colossuses that once shook the earth—and move on to what’s next. Take a picture on your Kodak, make a Xerox for your files, and forget about it. But if you […]

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By Donato