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Worldwide

The world's oldest operational businesses

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Most businesses come and go, but there are more than 5000 operational companies worldwide that have traded for more than 200 years.

Surprisingly, nearly all of those businesses employ less than 300 employees, making smaller and well-run businesses a marker of trade longevity! 

Asia

Company: Kongo Gumi 
Sector: Construction
Country: Japan
Established: 578

The country with the largest proliferation of ancient businesses is - by far - Japan, and the oldest of them all is Kongo Gumi. 

Establised in 578, this construction company was famed for building Buddhist temples and small building projects.

Amazingly, until 2006, Kongo Gumi was owned by 40 generations of the same family. The first-born son of each generation was not always the head of the company, however, as both male and female family members have headed up the business throughout its long history.

Sadly, Japan’s economic status, coupled with company significant debts, led to the family selling the business in 2006. However, Kongo Gumi is still trading to this day as a subsidiary of the Takamatsu Corporation.

Europe

Company: Stiftskeller St Peter
Sector: Restaurant
Country: Austria
Established: 803

A fully-trading restaurant in Salzburg, Austria Stiftskeller St Peter offer traditional Austrian food and other European cuisine.

The earliest mention of the business in historical records dates it to at least 803AD. 

With a large cellar area, top notch décor and offering music concerts to ecstatic patrons, its success is most likely due to it being much more than a conventional eatery. Stiftskeller’s musical fame comes from composer Michael Haydn living on the upper floor of the Stiftskeller in 1760, and from hosting a yearly celebration of the works of Mozart, played by professional quartets. 

North America 

Business: Shirley Plantation
Sector: Plantation
Country: USA
Established: 1616 

On the bank of the James River in Charles City County, Virginia, resides the Shirley Plantation - a full-trading business dating back to 1638. Aristocrat Sir Thomas West bought and cultivated the tobacco plantation for growing tobacco to be shipped around the world, and tobacco is still grown there today.

However, it was businessman Edward Hill and family who expanded the business through thick and thin, including Bacon's Rebellion – an armed assault on the then Governor of Virginia of 1676. The business remains in the Hill-Carter (from a successful marriage of two high profile families) family today. 

The 'Great House' was built in 1723 and remains largely in its original state, although it has never had a front door!
The Shirley Plantation is one of the most preserved 18th century estate in the US so visitors come far and wide to visit this National Historic Landmark.

South America

Business: Banco do Brasil 
Sector: Finance
Country: Brazil
Established: 1808. 

This is the first of two banking institutions on the list – no surprise given that money-lending is one of the oldest forms of commerce.

Banco do Brasil was founded in 1808 by then prince-regent João VI of Portugal in order to finance his European kingdom’s public debt when he moved to Brasilia. Its headquarters remain there today.

Even though it is now in good financial health, the bank has weathered financial crisis, having been declared bankrupt twice (although the last time was in 1898). Unusually, Banco do Brasil has both issued currency and acted as Brazil’s National Treasury holder for the government, two functions which now must be carried out separately by different institutions.

In 1992 Banco de Brasil was wisely restructured as a commercial bank. In 2013, the bank became the most profitable in Brazil. It is now key in financing public programs, helping the Government increase sustainability and decrease poverty.

Australasia

Business: Bank of New South Wales (Australia) 
Sector: Finance
Country: Australia
Established: 1817 

The second bank on this list comes only a few years later than its Brazilian counterpart, but the story of the founding of the Bank of New South Wales could not be any different. This bank was formulated in a ‘needs-must’ fashion by political reformer Edward Smith Hall.

London-born Hall sailed to Sydney in 1811 and with the help of some high-faluting connections (including future British Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel) he obtained a number of Australian Government land-grants, on which he started the New Zealand Trading Company. 

Hall was making only a small profit at first, so he lobbied for loan-facilities to grow his business, first founded the Benevolent Society of New South Wales (a charity aiming to promote positive social change, which still runs to this day) in 1813, soon becoming a the first secretary and cashier of the Bank of New South Wales 1817. 

The bank is now run by banking group Westpac and provides commercial and personal banking services - well-serving Hall’s trade legacy. 

Antarctica

Business: N/A
Sector: Sealing/tourism
Country: N/A
Established: 1786/1921. 

Antarctica is a continent with a peculiar business history. As it has no indigenous population, businesses were started by pioneers. The first human land interaction begins with English seal-hunter John Davis, who is purported to be the first person to walk on Antarctica in 1921.

However, trade in the Antarctic sea region is a different story. British and American sealers and whalers lived in nearby (relatively-speaking) South Georgia and hunted around the ice from as early as 1786. British-owned South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands have a total land area of only 3,903 square kilometres and lies north east of northern Antarctica (pictured above).

Whalers would man whaling stations with their families, including Captain Carl Anton Larsen, a Norwegian whaler/explorer who traded whale blubber and oil worldwide for many years.

Sea tourism businesses started trading in the 1960s and sightseeing flights across Antarctica began in 1977 from Qantas in Australia and its neighbour Air New Zealand.

Sealing and tourism businesses are still in operation but these days most on-land businesses are worldwide Government-funded scientific research centres. It may seem remote, but ‘natives’ only work between 3-4 months per year and are virtually self-sufficient.


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