These Are America's 10 Oldest Public Companies

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This post originally appeared at Minyanville. 

Over 230 years before the birth of the Transcontinental Railroad — the industry that laid the tracks for American economic prosperity — our country’s first entrepreneurs were setting up shop or, rather, farm.

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By many accounts, the first was Tuttle’s Red Barn, established in 1632 on a settlement near the Maine-New Hampshire border with a small land grant from King Charles I.

We’ve come a long way from apples to AAPL.

Although countless businesses provided goods and services in America’s formative years, only a few — including Caswell-Massey perfume and Philadelphia Contributionship insurance, both established in 1752 — remain in operation. Fewer still can be found on the public market, either as standalone firms or smaller subsidiaries. Here, Minyanville profiles the 10 public companies with the oldest roots. 



8. Jim Beam, Est. 1795

Before Kentucky was even a state, rebel farmer Jacob Beam began experimenting on his farm in the bluegrass hills with a recipe for bourbon whiskey, blending corn and grains with spring water, running it through a still and ageing it in barrels. In 1795, he sold his first barrel.

Four generations and 13 years of prohibition later, the bourbon was branded Jim Beam after Jacob's great grandson, Colonel James B. Beam, who recommenced the newly-legal business in 1933. Today, Jim Beam, under holding company Fortune Brands (FO), is one of the best selling brands of bourbon in the world.

7. State Street, Est. 1792

Just in time for the opening of the New York Stock Exchange, Boston's Union Bank was chartered, becoming Massachusetts' oldest continuously operating bank until its merger with investment company State Street (STT) in 1925. The previous year saw the birth of the modern U.S. mutual fund with the creation of the Massachusetts Investors' Trust, of which State Street was named custodian.

State Street grew that first mutual fund into custodianship of 56% of the funds currently in the US mutual fund market, making it the country's largest provider of mutual fund custody. Within the last 10 years, State Street's assets under management rose from $711 billion to $2 trillion.


5. Bank of New York, Est. 1784

Just as the dust was settling from the last British soldiers' footsteps leaving American soil, the battalion commander who helped force the British surrender at Yorktown, Virginia turned his attention to finance. Alexander Hamilton, also a prominent lawyer and founding father, established the country's oldest bank in 1784, only the second in the 13 colonies.

The Bank of New York was founded with a $500 capital investment and hired, as one of its first employees, a young John Jacob Astor, salaried at $2 per week, who would become America's first millionaire. For the next century, the firm would make it through the financial crises of 1819, 1837, 1873, 1893 and, most notably, the panic of 1857, triggered by the New York branch of the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company's embezzlement scandal.

Today, under the name The Bank of New York Mellon (BK), the institution earns revenue upwards of $14 billion.

4. Bowne, Est. 1775

Back when there was a Queen Street in downtown Manhattan, Bowne & Co. stood at number 39 and sold writing and printing materials. A few years after its opening in 1775, the company began providing printing services. Among the firm's firsts was printing the National Association of Baseball Player's first baseball rulebook in 1858 and installing one of New York's first telephones.

While many American companies folded during national crises, Bowne & Co. persevered through the Civil War and the Great Depression. During World War II, the company printed application blanks for defence Bonds at a constant clip.

Bowne & Co. incorporated in 1909, went public in 1968 under the ticker BNE, and was acquired of by Chicago-based global print services company RR Donnelley (RRD) in 2010.

3. Ames, Est. 1774

The iron-bladed shovels, pioneered by blacksmith Captain John Ames in 1774, literally broke the ground for industrial America with their construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, the B&O Railroad, the interstate highway system and the Hoover Dam. They helped build treasured national monuments like the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore and allowed prospectors to dig for California gold. Admiral Byrd used the shovels to explore Antarctica.

Ames remained a family-owned tool company for roughly 175 years, first being acquired in the 1950s and going through several mergers until Griffon Corporation (GFF) purchased it as Ames True Temper in 2010.



Now That You're Done Learning Some History, Check Out The 10 Companies Poised For A Comeback Here In 2012

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