Unlocking the Power of the Fortune 500: Insights, History, and Significance


The Fortune 500, a prestigious annual ranking by Fortune magazine, showcases the 500 largest companies in the United States based on their total annual revenues. In this comprehensive article, we explore the history, significance, and the evolving landscape of the Fortune 500, shedding light on the criteria for inclusion, notable companies, and how it reflects economic trends. We also provide a Pros and Cons section and answer frequently asked questions to offer a holistic view of this influential list.

Unlocking the power of the Fortune 500: Insights, history, and significance

The Fortune 500 is not just a list; it’s a reflection of the economic powerhouse that is the United States. Each year, Fortune magazine meticulously compiles this prestigious ranking, showcasing the 500 largest companies in the country based on their total annual revenues. This exclusive club of corporate giants holds a special place in the business world, serving as a barometer of success, economic strength, and adaptability. In this comprehensive article, we dive deep into the Fortune 500, uncovering its history, significance, and the ever-evolving landscape it represents.

A glimpse into history

The inception of the Fortune 500 dates back to 1955 when the world was marveling at the economic might of the United States. Fortune magazine, founded in 1929 by Henry Robinson Luce, took on the ambitious task of measuring the size and influence of American businesses. This endeavor was led by editor Edgar P. Smith, who aimed to provide a comprehensive snapshot of the corporate landscape during a time when the U.S. economy was “the envy of the world.”

Originally, the list was named the Fortune Industrial 500, focusing primarily on companies in the manufacturing, mining, and energy sectors. The first Fortune 500 list was relatively exclusive, featuring only companies that generated a minimum of $49.7 million in annual revenue. General Motors (GM) led the pack in 1955 with annual revenues of $9.8 billion.

Evolution and expansion

The Fortune 500 underwent a significant transformation in 1995 when it expanded to include service companies alongside its traditional sectors. This move reshaped the composition of the list dramatically. For the first time, service companies secured their place among the corporate elite, accounting for 291 of the 500 entries. This shift had far-reaching consequences for the future of the Fortune 500.

Three newly included service companies quickly rose to prominence, securing positions within the top 10 rankings:

  • Walmart, at the fourth spot, demonstrated its prowess in the retail sector.
  • AT&T claimed the fifth position, showcasing the importance of telecommunications.
  • Sears Roebuck entered the top 10 at ninth place, exemplifying the significance of department stores in the American economy.

This pivotal change in criteria would shape the future landscape of the Fortune 500, transforming it from a list primarily dominated by traditional industries to one that accurately represented the broader American corporate landscape.

Understanding inclusion criteria

To secure a coveted spot on the Fortune 500, companies must meet specific inclusion criteria. These criteria encompass:

  • Incorporation and operation within the United States.
  • Filing of financial statements with government agencies.
  • Publicly traded and privately held companies are considered.
  • Exclusion of private companies that do not file financial statements.
  • Elimination of foreign corporations from consideration.
  • Exclusion of American companies consolidated by others.
  • Companies must report full financial statements for at least three-quarters of the current fiscal year.

As of 2020, rankings are determined by a company’s total revenues, as reported in their 10-K filings or equivalent financial statements. This transparent and rigorous methodology ensures that the Fortune 500 remains a credible and trusted source for gauging the economic might of American businesses.

The significance of the Fortune 500

Being included in the Fortune 500 is more than just a recognition; it signifies prestige, resilience, and excellence. Companies that make it onto this coveted list are often perceived as leaders in their industries. They have demonstrated their ability to generate substantial revenue and navigate the complexities of the business world successfully.

Furthermore, the Fortune 500 serves as an indicator of economic trends and shifts. It provides valuable insights into the health of the American economy. Factors such as mergers and acquisitions (M&A), shifts in production, bankruptcies, and economic recessions have all played a role in shaping the Fortune 500 list. When multiple companies from specific sectors disappear from the list, it can serve as a telling sign of economic challenges within those industries. Conversely, the inclusion of newcomers can signal economic recovery and emerging trends.

Notable companies and rankings

The Fortune 500 is a dynamic list that sees companies rise and fall based on their performance and market conditions. Notable rankings and achievements in recent years include:

  • Walmart (WMT) maintained its position at the top of the Fortune 500 in 2020 for the eighth consecutive year, reporting remarkable revenues of $524 billion.
  • Online retail giant Amazon (AMZN) jumped to the second spot in 2020, with revenues totaling $280.5 billion, marking a four-spot improvement from the previous year.
  • Exxon Mobil (XOM) secured the third position with revenues of $265 billion.
  • Tech titan Apple (AAPL) and healthcare provider CVS Health (CVS) held the fourth and fifth positions, respectively.

Pros and cons of Fortune 500 inclusion


Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks associated with being part of the Fortune 500.

  • Enhanced reputation and credibility within the industry.
  • Access to a broader investor and customer base.
  • Opportunities for strategic partnerships and collaborations.
  • Heightened public and regulatory scrutiny.
  • Increased competition and pressure to maintain revenues.
  • Expectations of consistent growth and financial performance.

Frequently asked questions

How often is the Fortune 500 list published?

Fortune magazine publishes the Fortune 500 list annually. This annual release provides a fresh perspective on the state of the American corporate landscape.

Do foreign companies have a chance to be included in the Fortune 500?

No, the Fortune 500 is exclusively focused on American companies—both publicly traded and privately held—that meet the specified inclusion criteria. Foreign corporations are not considered for this ranking.

What impact does inclusion on the Fortune 500 have on a company’s stock performance?

Inclusion on the Fortune 500 can positively influence a company’s stock performance. It often signals to investors that the company is a reputable, financially stable entity, potentially attracting more investment.

Is there a minimum revenue requirement for Fortune 500 inclusion?

While there is no fixed minimum revenue requirement, companies must meet specific financial criteria and rank among the top 500 in terms of annual revenues to make it onto the list. The exact revenue threshold may vary from year to year based on the performance of eligible companies.

Can companies be removed from the Fortune 500 list?

Yes, companies can be removed from the Fortune 500 list if they no longer meet the inclusion criteria. Factors such as declining revenues, mergers, acquisitions, or economic challenges can lead to a company’s removal.

How is a company’s revenue calculated for Fortune 500 ranking?

A company’s revenue for Fortune 500 ranking is determined based on its total annual revenues as reported in publicly available financial statements, such as 10-K filings or comparable financial documents. This transparent methodology ensures accuracy and consistency in ranking.

Key takeaways

  • The Fortune 500 is an annual list of the 500 largest US companies, ranked by total revenues.
  • Its history dates back to 1955 when it primarily featured manufacturing, mining, and energy companies.
  • It expanded in 1995 to include service companies, transforming its composition.
  • Inclusion signifies prestige and reflects a company’s economic strength and adaptability.
  • Notable companies on the list change annually, reflecting the dynamic nature of the business world.
View article sources
  1. Fortune Official Website – IESE Library University of Navarra
  2. Thriving in a Fortune 500 Company: A Case Study of Grit, Resilience, and Employee Perceptions – East Tennessee State University
  3. Where can I find a list of the Fortune 500 companies? – New York University Libraries
  4. Fortune 500® Partners List – EPA Green Power Partnership
  5. Silicon Valley: Definition, Where Is It and What It’s Famous For – SuperMoney