Boston stock market icons that have produced the best returns

Boston waterfront
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Boston waterfront

General Electric moved its headquarters to Boston in late August, but the oldest of Boston's iconic public companies, State Street, was founded in 1792, back when the city first took its place as the hub of New England's economy.

The youngest, GCP Applied Technologies, rang in at the New York Stock Exchange when it went public eight months ago.

Recent data shows that a large percentage of public companies come from California — a state with 12 percent of the U.S. population now hosts one-fifth of all public companies — but don't forget Boston: Thousands of companies have launched, raised capital, gone public and thrived (or faded) throughout its rich history as a corporate haven.

To rank their performance, CNBC looked at the stock price growth of more than 200 public companies with headquarters bounded by Route 495, the outer ring road that defines greater Boston on the map. (We collected our company list with the help of S&P Global Market Intelligence. Stock returns are based on adjusted monthly closing prices from Yahoo Finance.)

The list is a window into Boston's thriving economy, where the jobless rate has fallen to 3.7 percent, well below the national average.

Though Boston's public companies span a wide range of industry sectors, more than half of the market capitalization of the list comes from companies developing products and services in health care or information technology.

That should come as no surprise to local entrepreneurs who routinely recruit new hires from the dozens of world-class research universities and medical centers that are also major employers and contributors to the Boston-area economy.

Health-care stocks are among the top performers among Boston icons, led by pharma giant Biogen, which has a 20-year compound annual growth rate north of 25 percent.

The list also includes industrial companies like Chase Corp., a 70-year-old maker of industrial coatings and tapes.

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But just a handful of those companies have created iconic returns for their investors. (By way of comparison, the 20-year compound annual growth rate of the Dow Jones/S&P 500 index — without dividend reinvestment — is about 6 percent.)

Consumers may be more familiar with popular brands like TripAdvisor, Staples, Dunkin Brands and retailer TJX.

For a closer look, here's a map with details for each company. Filter the list by sector and company market capitalization, and hover over the dots for details.