Most startups fail. It’s hard to create the sort of capital you need to start a business and hard to create the necessary revenue to sustain and grow.
But, it’s even harder to stay relevant as time goes along. Radio replaced some of newspapers’ popularity, then T.V. replaced radio, then the internet replaced T.V., and the internet will probably be replaced some day by a new technology we haven’t even considered yet. That’s just how the world of business seems to go.
That’s why we have to stop and appreciate the rare companies on this list who have been able to change and adapt through centuries without missing a beat. Consider this: The youngest company on this list is almost 200, and the oldest is 163 years older than the Declaration of Independence. And they’re still going strong! That’s the sort of legacy every entrepreneur dreams about.
Start the slideshow to see some of the oldest existing companies in America.
When Henry Sands Brooks opened his first store, H. & D. H. Brooks & Co. in Manhattan, on April 7, 1818, Mississippi had only recently been added as the 20th state in the Union.
In 1816, the same year that Eliphalet Remington II built his first hand-built rifle, James Madison was elected as America’s first president. Since then, the Remington brand has become one of the biggest gun manufacturers in the world.
In the same year that Jacob Lewis established the Lewis Pottery on the edge of the Ohio River, Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to the island of St. Helena, ending the Napoleonic Wars. While Lewis Pottery has changed hands over the years, it still produces stoneware on the edge of the Ohio River.
In 1807, the business was a single print shop that Charles Wiley opened in Manhattan. Today, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. is a billion-dollar business, having published works by the likes of Edgar Allen Poe and Washington Irving.
William Colgate opened the starch, soap and candle factory in New York City in 1806 when he was just 23 years old. Since then, he and his family have grown the business into the multinational corporation it is today.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac, first edited and founded by Robert B. Thomas in 1792, has earned its name the hard way — the word “Old” was added to the title in 1832, 40 years after the first edition was printed. Since then, the almanac has printed every year except for 1943 to 1945 (due to World War II legislation) and now publishes four editions per year.
The New York Stock Exchange began on May 17, 1792, when 24 stockbrokers signed the Buttonwood Agreement on Wall Street. Now, almost 225 later, the New York Stock Exchange sees over a hundred billion dollars’ worth of trades on a daily basis.
Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft was founded in the same year as the New York Stock Exchange. In the same city. Even the same street (Wall Street)! Like the New York Stock Exchange, Cadwalader has undergone massive growth since then and is now one of the richest law firms in America.
When Henry Wood began importing European flour to Long Wharf in Boston in 1790, we’re pretty sure King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table were still ruling England (really it was King George III, but it’s impressive either way).
How old is the Bank of New York? Old enough that some guy named Alexander Hamilton wrote its Constitution, just months after British forces left U.S. soil. Five years later, in 1789, Hamilton became the first United States Secretary of the Treasury.
In 1780, Robert Laird (who served in the Continental Army under George Washington) and his commercial distillery in Scobeyville, New Jersy, earned License No. 1 from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Originally called “Hannan’s Best Chocolate” and run by John Hannon in Dorchester, Mass., the chocolate shop first changed hands when Hannan took a trip to the West Indies and never returned (it was easier than getting a divorce at the time, apparently). His wife sold the company to Dr. James Baker in 1780, who changed the name to Baker Chocolate Company.
Today, the Baker Chocolate Company is owned by Mondelez International.
You know the Hartford Courant has been around a while because it was founded at a time when “courant” was still a popular word for a newspaper. However, that branding seems to have worked — the Courant is still the largest daily newspaper in Connecticut.
Best known for its fragrances, Casswell-Massey was founded in 1752 by Dr. William Hunter in Newport, R.I. The same year, Benjamin Franklin made his famous lightning conductor, kite-flying experiment and the Liberty Bell arrived in Philadelphia.
Now, we’re getting into some serious history. The John Stevens Shop (like Caswell-Massey, founded in Newport, R.I.) is one of four bussinesses on this list that has been around for three centuries, and it’s worked on some pretty significant works of stone art like the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. and the Pacific Arch of the National World War II Memorial.
If you were in Newport, R.I., and needed to visit Caswell-Massey or The John Stevens Shop, you could also stop by The White Horse Tavern, which was built in 1652 to be a two-story residence before being converted into a tavern. The White Horse Tavern website boasts that the restaurant was popular with Colonists, Hessian mercenaries and pirates.
The inn in Kennebunkport, Maine was settled by John Gooch, who was sent to America to help settle Maine as a colony. Remarkably, not only does the inn remain in operation, but it remains a family-operated business, as a 12th-generation family member now runs the inn.
Built to grow tobacco, the Shirley Plantation isn’t just famous for being one of the oldest active businesses in the United States. Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s parents were also married at the plantation in June of 1793, as his mother’s family (the Hill Carters) have owned the land since 1738. They continue to own and run the plantation today, eight generations later.