Monday, June 6, 2011

What is the oldest company in the world?

I was being driven around York, England by a real estate agent looking at apartments to rent for the fall when I will be teaching there. We were talking about our jobs and he asked me about my research. When I told him I studied 100-year-old companies he asked me if I knew what was the oldest company in the world. I admitted that I did not. "Well I do!" he says. He had just heard a piece on the BBC about Stora, the Swedish mining company that dates from 1288 and some claim to be the oldest company in the world. Though my research focus is on U.S. companies over 100, I decided to look into this question about the world's oldest company.

Stora may be one of the oldest large corporations, but there are some older institutions - several of them in Japan and many of them in either the hotel or beverage industries. Three of the oldest: Keiunkan, Hoshi and Koman are all hotels (ryokans or onsens) founded in the early 700s.

The Marinelli Bell Foundry in Italy, successor to a company in operation since the early 1000s, is considered Italy's oldest family business. The Goulaine winery in France also traces its roots to the early 1000s and is generally considered the oldest European family-owned business. However, St. Peter Stiftskeller (restaurant) in Salzburg, Austria is said to have been in continuous operation since 803.

Another of the contenders for oldest company is Tanaka-Iga, a Japanese manufacturer of items used in religious shrines and ceremonies, founded in 885. And then there's Genda Shigyo, which has been making paper bags in Japan since 771.....wonder what people carried in paper bags back in the 8th century?

Regardless of how you define "oldest company" these are interesting organizations!

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