8 of America’s Oldest Companies
There’s little doubt that in America we are attracted to the latest and greatest. It’s funny how often that new restaurant gets so much buzz at the opening and in 6 months is closing its doors. Some of the problem is the result of normal business startups. But some of it is the result of lack of good business discipline.
On the other hand, we read little about American businesses that stand the test of time. In fact, we take them for granted. In some cases, we look at them like national monuments—they just exist. But the truth is that these businesses are the result of ongoing innovation and adherence to fundamental business discipline.
The April 17, 2017 Business News Daily¹ highlighted some of America’s oldest companies:
- Caswell-Massey is a perfume and soap company started in 1752 in Rhode Island. It received notoriety from the likes of President George Washington and the explorers Lewis and Clark. Today a private investment group owns it with a store in New York.
- Baker’s Chocolate. James Baker and John Hannon founded Baker’s Chocolate near Boston in 1765. Their first recorded sale was in 1772, but in 1780, the company began making its first Baker’s branded chocolate. They later expanded their product offerings. Today, the company is owned by Kraft.
- Ames. You’ve probably bought a garden hose, hose reel, or hand tool. Captain John Ames founded the company in 1774 in Massachusetts. Today, Ames is owned by Griffon Corp., and is based in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.
- King Arthur Flour. Henry Wood founded this company in 1790 in Boston. In 1896, the company took the name King Arthur Flour—they were known for importing European flour for bakers in the United States. Their headquarters is in Norwich, Vermont.
- Jim Beam. I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that whiskey makes for one of the oldest companies in America. Jim Beam was founded in Kentucky, and they sold their first barrel of whiskey in 1795. However, the company didn’t change its name to Jim Beam until 1943. The company was named after the fourth-generation member of the Beam family to run it—Colonel James B. Beam. Today, it is run by the seventh generation of the Beam family, Frederick Booker Noe III.
- Pfaltzgraff (1811). The Pflatzgraff family immigrated to the United States and, with a potter’s wheel and kiln, began making dishes. As most reading this blog would know, you can still buy their dinnerware in stores today. In 2005, they became part of Lifetime Brands.
- Remington. We should not be surprised either that firearms would be one of America’s oldest companies. Founded in 1816, Remington was actually known for typewriters until one of Remington’s sons made a rifle barrel of his own and placed second in a local shooting competition with it. Thus the rifle business was born, and they continue their efforts today.
- HarperCollins. Founded in 1817, James and John Harper started in the
book publishing business. In 1850, they began publishing magazines. Over the years, they expanded and purchased other publishers and became known as one of the Big Five publishers in New York City. In 1987, News Corporation purchased them along with William Collins and Sons in 1990 and changed the name to HarperCollins.
While there are other companies noted in the Business News Daily article, it’s notable that no single industry dominates. The lesson? It’s not industry or prevailing economic circumstances that predict endurance, but good leadership, good product, and good business practices.