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The S&P 500 notches a record. How did we get here?

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A: Since March 2009, a total of 79 companies have dropped out. When companies leave, it’s often because they have been bought by another member of the 500 club, Silverblatt says. But S&P will also pull a company if its market value has shrunk drastically, or if it doesn’t have enough publicly traded shares.

Some of the missing companies are well-known, mighty giants whose fortunes have faded. Sears, Roebuck was in the index at the beginning in 1957. But last August, Sears Holdings lost its spot to the chemical maker LyondellBassell.

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On Dec. 17, 2010, Eastman Kodak and The New York Times Co. were unseated by Newfield Exploration and F5 Networks.

Q: How long has the index been around?

A: Since March 4, 1957. That’s when S&P took its indices that tracked industry groups -- transportation, utilities and financials -- and merged them with the old S&P 400, according to Silverblatt. It gained in popularity throughout the 1960s, as researchers began applying the tools of statistics to politics, health care and, eventually, markets.

Compared with the Dow, which launched in 1896, it’s still an upstart.

Q: What are other highlights and lowlights for the S&P?

A: The index started at 44.06 on March 4, 1957 and broke the 1,000 mark on February 2, 1998.

Its worst day was Oct. 19, 1987, Black Monday, when financial markets crashed in a wave of panic selling. The index plunged 21 percent, losing 57.86 points, to end the day at 224.84.

Measured in points, the biggest one-day loss came during the height of the financial crisis, Sept. 29, 2008. The index dropped 106.62 points that day to close at 1,106.39, a loss of 9 percent.

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Its best day came exactly two weeks later on Oct. 13, 2008, when governments in the U.S. and Europe announced sweeping plans to shore up the battered global financial system. The index rose by 104.14 points, or 12 percent, to end the day at 1,003.35. That’s the biggest one-day jump in points and percentage.

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