The Fortune 500 is a list of the 500 largest companies in the US, which is compiled each year by Fortune magazine, a top business publication founded in 1929. Originally called the Fortune Industrial 500, it was compiled by Fortune’s then-editor Edgar P. Smith in 1955 as a testament to the might of the US economy.
Since then, it has grown in importance. These 500 companies currently make up about two-thirds of US GDP and 18% of the gross world product, with about $20.4 trillion in market value (in 2020). In 2020, they employed almost 0.4% of the world’s population.
Understanding the Fortune 500 gives us insight into these companies and their massive impact on our world.
History of the Fortune 500
Since 1955, 1,800+ companies have been included on the Fortune 500, and the list tells the story of America’s economic fortunes. 52 of America’s powerhouse companies have been included in the list every year.
Along with indicating company size, a company’s inclusion in the Fortune 500 indicates success and prestige—especially when the company reaches the Fortune 100 or Fortune 50, meaning it is among the top 100 or 50 companies in the US.
Reflecting the new reality of globalized business, Fortune also publishes the similarly influential Fortune Global 500 and national 500 lists for India, China, Korea, Turkey, Indonesia, and Greece.
Why does the Fortune 500 matter?
The Fortune 500 is widely believed to chart the health of the US economy. As the list’s composition changed throughout the past decades, the health of different sectors of the economy can also be gauged by their addition and removal.
or example, in 1995 the Fortune 500 added service companies to its original industrial focus. Service companies took up 291 out of 500 companies that year, and three service companies (Walmart, AT&T, and Sears Roebuck) made it into the top 10.
ExxonMobile and General Motors had traded the top position from 1955 until 2002, when both were usurped by Wal-Mart. This shift indicated the rise of this retail giant (which has topped the list 8 times since then) and a shift in consumer spending.
Correspondingly, though energy companies are still a large part of the Fortune 500, the largest three automakers (Ford, GM, and Chrysler) almost failed in the 2008 financial crisis.
As of 2020, the top 10 spots in the Fortune 500 include tech and telecommunications companies like Amazon, Apple, and AT&T, indicating the economy’s shift towards high-tech sectors. The inclusion of healthcare companies like CVS Health and United Health Group may reflect America’s aging population and increasing per-person spending on healthcare.
Close examination of the Fortune 500 can also reveal social changes. For example, amidst the economic turmoil of the Covid-19 pandemic and the associated rise in women’s unemployment, business in 2020 also showed an unexpected milestone—2020 had the largest ever number of female CEOs (37) in the Fortune 500.
Since the Fortune 500 can be considered a snapshot of the business world, the rising number of female CEOs could be encouraging news of diversity and inclusion in corporate America.
How are the companies ranked?
The 500 largest companies in the US are included in the Fortune 500, as judged by their annual revenue for the fiscal year. Due to the fiscal year, the rankings are actually one year behind—for example, the 2020 list would be made using 2019’s financial data.
The list includes US companies that file financial data with American regulators. Foreign companies, consolidated companies, and those with financial data for fewer than three quarters of the year are not included.
The Fortune 500 includes both public and private companies, unlike the S&P 500, which only includes publicly traded large-cap companies. (Roughly two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies also appear in the S&P 500.)
We offer a neatly organized list of all 1,000 companies included in the Fortune's list, which includes verififed email addresses. To download this list, please head over to the download page.