was there far more choice back in the day?
There were more choices. Many of those choices fell off in the 90's. Some of those choices deserved to go away, but not all. I've heard someone say that the big shakeup when a lot of people went out of business can be described in one phrase: M900.
They contend that M900 worked better than the alternatives and not just on cranks either. That is of course a matter for debate but suffice it to say that M900 did capture the marketplace, for better or for worse. Right now you have a lot of companies in the 29'er market (though I'm not knowledeable about this myself) and some contend that the big names are going to do to the 29'er market what happened in the 90's to the component market. They wait and see and when it's ripe they pounce. Not sure if I agree or not (pleading ignorance on this) but that is what some I know have said.
But back to your original original question, there were a lot of choices back then.