There are two artifacts on the Vanguard Group's Valley Forge, Penn. campus that recall a 25-year-old fight. One is an eight-foot statue of John Bogle that executives pass each day on their way to the lunchroom. The other is a poster outside Bogle's office door. In the style of World War II-era propaganda, it reads: "Help stamp out index funds. Index funds are un-American."

Bogle, who launched the first index fund for individual investors in 1976, keeps the poster around as a sort of "in-your-face" to an industry that scorned the vehicles 25 years ago. Those were difficult times. Bogle had been forced out as head of Wellington Management. Markets were vicious. And the press was treating the idea of index investing about as well as the markets were treating people's money.

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