Back to the future: A visual tour of the Dow 30 index

The history of the Dow Jones industrial average is a history of the U.S. economy. This visualization tracks the companies that, over the past 87 years, have entered and left the iconic index as their fortunes rose and fell.

While the Dow Jones industrial average tracks the stock prices of its 30 elite members, this visualization illustrates the total value of each company, as measured by monthly average market capitalization (the number of shares outstanding multiplied by the stock price).

The roster continues to reflect the ongoing evolution of the American economy. From a developing economy that drew heavily on commodity production and extraction—American Sugar, Standard Oil and U.S. Steel—the Dow 30 membership tracked the rise of manufacturing through the middle of the last century—Goodyear, Boeing, General Motors—and the more recent emergence of an economy drive by information, finance and services industries: Visa, Microsoft and Verizon.

If past is prologue, the Dow roster will look very different in 25 years. Of the 30 current stocks, fewer than half were members in 1989. Only five have maintained membership for 50 years, and only one—General Electric—has been a Dow stock since the index expanded to 30 companies on Oct. 1, 1928.

By 2039 some of today's iconic companies will likely have faded away like an old Kodak photo, or closed up shop like a Woolworth's lunch counter.

And there will likely be whole new industries whose contributions to the U.S. economy will be represented on the Dow. In 1989 big-box retailer Home Depot had just opened it 100th store. Cisco Systems—not yet a public company— was making something called a network router that few people outside the IT departments had ever heard of.

So while you can expect the list to take on an entirely new set of names, it's difficult—if not impossible—to predict what they'll be.

Market-cap data was provided by the Center for Research in Security Prices (CRSP) at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. The Dow 30 roster, including the dates of entry and departure from the index, was provided by S&P DJ Indices.

—By CNBC Staff

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