The 25 Best S&P 500 Stocks of the Past 50 Years

Have a look at the best stocks of the past 50 years and you’ll see that unless they’re Warren Buffett (hint, hint), long-term investors should probably covet dividends like a Rockefeller.

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John D. Rockefeller is reputed to have said, “The only thing that gives me pleasure is to see my dividends coming in.” Income investors hopefully lead fuller emotional lives than the richest American who ever lived, but they, like Rockefeller, should understand the long-term power of dividends.

Just have a look at the best stocks of the past half-century. In every case but one – which is a very special case, indeed – dividend income was critical to generating superior returns over the long haul.

S&P Dow Jones Indices recently published a list of the 25 stocks in Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index that generated the best returns over the past 50 years. By price appreciation alone, many of these stocks delivered underwhelming annualized returns.

On a total-return basis (price appreciation plus dividends), however, these stocks blew away the broader market. Over the last 50 years, the S&P 500 generated an annualized return including dividends of 9.5%. That’s peanuts compared to the returns generated by the best stocks of the past half-century.

Have a look at the best stocks of the past 50 years and you’ll see that unless they’re Warren Buffett (hint, hint), long-term investors should probably covet dividends like a Rockefeller.

Data is as of Jan. 4, 2019, unless otherwise noted. Dividend yields are calculated by annualizing the most recent quarterly payout and dividing by the share price. Historical annualized returns provided by S&P Dow Jones Indices. Analysts’ ratings provided by Zacks Investment Research.

Dan Burrows
Senior Investing Writer, Kiplinger.com

Dan Burrows is Kiplinger's senior investing writer, having joined the august publication full time in 2016.


A long-time financial journalist, Dan is a veteran of SmartMoney, MarketWatch, CBS MoneyWatch, InvestorPlace and DailyFinance. He has written for The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Consumer Reports, Senior Executive and Boston magazine, and his stories have appeared in the New York Daily News, the San Jose Mercury News and Investor's Business Daily, among other publications. As a senior writer at AOL's DailyFinance, Dan reported market news from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and hosted a weekly video segment on equities.


Once upon a time – before his days as a financial reporter and assistant financial editor at legendary fashion trade paper Women's Wear Daily – Dan worked for Spy magazine, scribbled away at Time Inc. and contributed to Maxim magazine back when lad mags were a thing. He's also written for Esquire magazine's Dubious Achievements Awards.


In his current role at Kiplinger, Dan writes about equities, fixed income, currencies, commodities, funds, macroeconomics and more.


Dan holds a bachelor's degree from Oberlin College and a master's degree from Columbia University.


Disclosure: Dan does not trade stocks or other securities. Rather, he dollar-cost averages into cheap funds and index funds and holds them forever in tax-advantaged accounts.