The Quick 10: 10 of the World's Oldest Companies


When I wrote the post about Woolworth's last week, I thought it was an old company. At nearly 120 years old, it was one of the oldest companies in the United States, but that's nothing when you expand your view to the rest of the world "“ these 10 are some of the oldest continuously-operating companies ever.

1. Kongō Gumi Co., Ltd, just saw the end of its long run a couple of years ago. Up until 2006, the Japanese construction company had been going strong since 578 A.D. Yep, you read that right - 578 A.D. The company was primarily involved in building temples but also had a stint building coffins during WWII. Things started going downhill in the "˜80s, when they borrowed a lot of money to invest in real estate. By 2004, revenues were way down, and by 2006, they were $343 million in debt and ended up being absorbed by Takamatsu construction.

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3. Within the walls of St. Peter's Archabbey in Salzburg, Vienna, lies Stiftskeller St. Peter, a restaurant and wine cellar that has been feeding the masses since at least 803 A.D. And apparently being in business that long has allowed them to perfect a thing or two, because it consistently gets outstanding reviews from the travelers who pass through its doors "“ and there are some pretty impressive travelers that are rumored to have eaten here. Supposedly Mephistopheles met Faust at Stiftskeller, Charlemagne liked to eat there, and Christopher Columbus downed a mug of beer there before he hopped on the Santa Maria.

4. It should come as no surprise that there is a brewery on the list "“ the Weihenstephan Brewery of Bavaria, to be exact, which has been serving patrons since 1040, and maybe even earlier. But that's the year it was licensed by the city, so we have actual paperwork to prove it. It survived even when the monastery it was attached to was secularized under Napoleon in 1803. These days the brewery not only makes a selection of pale lagers and wheat beers, it's also a learning facility for students at the Techincal University of Munich.

5. The Wieliczka Salt Mine in the Krakow area of Poland is another one that had been going strong until very recently. And it sort of still is "“ although it's no longer producing salt, it is still a popular tourist spot, attracting about 1.2 million visitors every year. Since it has been open since 1044, some of those visitors have included Copernicus, Goethe, Mendeleyev, Pope John Paul II and Bill Clinton. If you're not headed to Krakow anytime soon, feel free to check out the virtual tour.

6. Although it's now owned by Heineken, Affligem Abbey brewery of Belgium retained its name, therefore keeping the not-quite 1000-year-old company in the running as one of the oldest companies ever. It was founded in 1074 by Benedictine monks and is still brewed using that original recipe, even since Heineken bought them in 2000.

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9. Surprise! Another brewery. Augustiner Brewery of Munich, Germany, dates all the way back to 1328. It was probably earlier, but as with the Weihenstephan Brewery, we only have proof dating from 1328. Also like Weihenstephan, the monastery-operated brewery fell under Napoleon's reforms during 1803 and was only allowed to be sold within the monastery walls. When the state took it over, the monks protested by walking out. In 1829, the brewery was bought by a private owner and remained more or less unchanged until WWII, when it suffered a lot of damage during the war. But not even heavy artillery can keep a good brewery down, and today it's still brewing brands like Augustiner Helles, Edelstoff, Oktoberfestbier and Augustiner Dunkles (which I would drink just for the name).

10. The Kremnica Mint in Slovakia first started producing florins and ducats in 1328, when Hungarian King Charles Robert of Anjou decided that Kremnica would be a free royal town that would operate a mint. Kremnica ducats became somewhat famous, producing coins of such quality that they were known as the hardest currency in Central Europe. During WWII, German soldiers blew up the Mint's equipment, but dedicated workers rallied to bring the machinery and building back up to par.

Know of another particularly old company? Share it with us in the comments!