Which Industries Have Dominated the U.S. Economy Over the Last 70 Years?

Some of the industries that have dominated the US economy over the last 70 years include the auto industry, steel, and aerospace sectors. Leading companies in these sectors that have been in existence throughout this period include General Motors, US Steel and McDonnell Douglas Corporation/Boeing respectively. Below is a methodology that we used to establish the companies featured in this research.


Our first strategy was to check for companies that have been leading in their various sectors for the past 70 years. Some of the sources we looked at include business publications like the Business Insider, Forbes and Visual Capitalist. We also looked at historical sources such as Encyclopedia and Britannica. In this case, leading industries refer to industries that top 50-100 companies post-World War 2 are in. These resources were useful and even provided us with the leading industries such as oil & gas, aerospace, steel and autos. We also managed to establish that the leading companies, based on valuation, in the various sectors which dominated the 1967 era.
Our next approach was to check for the top companies in each of the leading industries that have the highest revenue or valuation over the last 70 years. Some of the sources we use include Britannica, US News, WSJ, and CNN. The companies we identified include US Steel, GM and McDonnell Aircraft Corporation. We then shifted to each of the official company websites to determine their political contributions, think tanks established and how they influence the government.  Based on our research, we have included a list of three companies in each of the leading industries with a high-level overview of how they influence the government.


According to data from Visual Capitalist, the leading industries that have been in existence over the last 70 to 100 years in the US include heavy equipment, autos, conglomerates, and steel. Similar results are also presented by Forbes, which states that the ruling sectors since 1917 in the US include aerospace, oil & gas, steel, and autos. Within this period, particularly 1967, GM has dominated the auto industry for several decades while US Steel has maintained a monopoly in the steel sector based on their revenues and valuation.



By the 1950s, General Motors accounted for 54% of the auto market in the US. In the 1960s era, the company was one of the most valuable with a valuation of $171.2 billion.


  • Political contribution: The company was actively involved in the world wars when it retooled 90% of the GMC truck production line for use in military activities. Additionally, it also sold over 8,500 trucks to the US Army during the war. The company used its political influence to get a $13.4 billion bailout from the US Treasury through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Similarly, in 2009, it managed to raise $30 billion in funding for restructuring and to revive its operations after its bankruptcy.
  • Think Tank: The company donates money to various think tanks through its General Motors Foundation such as the Heartland Institute.



The company was formed in 1967 following a merger of McDonnell Aircraft Corporation and the Douglas Aircraft Company. The new company later merged with Boeing. Currently, it is the largest defense contractor in the US and builds most of the military aircraft in use.


  • Political contribution: The company donated over 29,000 warplanes during World War 2. It also built several commercial aircrafts to be used in the Allied war efforts. Currently, it produces missiles and jets for the US military. Based on the merger between the company and Boeing, the company was awarded the US defense contract to build competitive technology demonstrators for the Joint Strike Fighter.
  • Think Tank: The company formed the Rand Corporation in 1948. The objective of the organization is to look into the long-range planning of future weapons. Currently, the organization also receives funding from the US government and its area of focus has extended to other areas such as public safety, transportation, the environment, and energy.



This was one of the most valuable companies between 1917 to 1967 with a valuation of $46.4 billion. By 1900, the company controlled over 90% of all oil in the US and was considered to be the first ‘billion dollar’ company in the world. Some of the founders of the company include J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, Charles M. Schwab, and Elbert H.Gary.


  • Think Tank: Gary had immense influence in both business and political circles. He regularly held ‘Gary Dinners’ that were attended by heads of other steel companies. During these dinners, talks were held and decisions made influenced government policies in relation to cooperative pricing and marketing. Some of the practices Gary opposed include labor organizers and unreasonable competitive behavior. While these issues were talked about in informal settings, they influenced government policies.
  • Political influence: Gary’s successor was Myron C. Taylor who was more open to labor unions and eventually recognized the United Steel Workers of America. He donated money to cultural and humanitarian institutions and also served on special missions as an ambassador after World War 2. Through these initiatives, the company had a smooth relationship with the government.
Glenn is the Lead Operations Research Analyst at The Digital Momentum with experience in research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques. A holder of degree in Economics. A true specialist in quantitative and qualitative research.

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