How 16 Of The Oldest Companies On Earth Have Been Making Money For Centuries

Most companies live between 40 and 50 years.

So there must be something about the businesses that have persisted for 300, 500, or 1,300 years.

When we dove into the data on the world’s oldest companies, a few themes became clear — like that people have wanted to eat food, get drunk, learn things, and maybe kill each other once in a while for a really long time.

Here’s a list of companies with timelines that dwarf that of the U.S. itself, because startups have lots to learn from their elders.

705 -- Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan in Yamanashi, Japan

The hot spring hotel has been in operation since 705, making it the oldest running hotel in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

The inn has been run by the same family for 52 generations, according to Japan Page, the English-language expat site. The secret to its success is a sense of inter-generational pride, the report says:

... There are even some staff whose families have held the same post for generations, passing it from parent to child to grandchild. All the same, the staff are committed and courteous, earning wages for themselves and their families. They put their all into offering a spirit of service that stems from a shared desire to protect the inn. This unflagging commitment and hospitality is drawing attention from the hotel industries worldwide.

In management-speak, we call that alignment. Generations of it.

1498 -- The Shore Porters Society in Aberdeen, Scotland

If you've needed anything moved in the past 500 years in Aberdeen, Scotland, you could reach out to the Shore Porters Society. They have hauled people's junk around the world since the time Columbus was making trips to America.

Guardian columnist Paul May professed his love for the Shore Porters in 2004:

The company was about 100 years too late to make it into Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, but The Shore Porter's Tale has a ring to it. ...

What I love most about the Shore Porters Society is that they haven't made any attempt to update their brand since they dropped Middle Scots. They're not suddenly going to call themselves 'Porta' or lose the simple block lettering. They're just going to keep on trucking for the next 500-odd years.

So if you ever go off to find the New World, talk to the Shore Porters.

1534 -- Cambridge University Press in Cambridge, England

The CUP is the world's oldest publishing house, working out of the ridiculously prestigious university that bears its name. None other than Henry the VIII gave the press permission to print 'all manner of books.'

A few of the Press's greatest hits:

Producing widely read and cited books seems to be a sound strategy.

1570 -- Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London, England

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry has been making the world's finest bells for a while now.

'Whitechapel Bell Foundry's long history spans the reigns of 27 English monarchs,' the company says, 'and among the royal visitors to the foundry were King George V and Queen Mary who came to witness the casting of two bells for Westminster Abbey.'

Of course, the city of Philadelphia may have a few complaints around durability, as the Foundry made the Liberty Bell, which famously cracked when rang.

1608 -- Bushmills in County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Bushmills lays claim to being the oldest whiskey distillery on the planet. King James I -- he with the Bible who bears his name -- gave a certain Sir Thomas Philip the ability to distill whiskey in the April 20, 1608, according to the company.

The company has remained relevant all the while, with James Joyce giving a nod to Bushmills in epic 'Ulysses':

He never forgot himself when I was there sending me out of the room on some blind excuse paying his compliments to Bushmills whisky talking of course but hed do the same to the next woman that came along I suppose he died of galloping drink ages ago.

1744 -- Sotheby's in London, England

English bookseller Samuel Baker changed the world when he held an auction of books in 1744. That was the beginning of Sotheby's, a name now synonymous with high-brow spending.

A key to Sotheby's success is its ability to stay ahead of the trends in where the wealthy wanted to spend: coins, high-brow art, and real estate, among a few.

Now that you've seen some of the oldest companies, take a look at the most beautiful places to work:

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