Starting a business is tricky — but sustaining it long-term is even tougher. Yet there are a handful of diverse firms around the world that have been operating for many generations and are well acknowledged as some of the oldest operational businesses — they might even last after today’s giants Facebook and Microsoft are long-forgotten.
If you want to launch an enterprise with staying power, here are some of the world’s oldest operational businesses — some of the entries might surprise you.
Next time you’re in Salzburg and want to sample legendary haute cuisine, head to Stiftskeller St. Peter — it’s been serving up delectable dishes to hungry citizens and passing travellers since 803 A.D. Wash down treats like tender Tyrolean mountain lamb or sea urchin washed down with a refreshing glass of Bollinger — you might as well splash out in these salubrious surroundings.
Samson Ellis brewed his first batch of craft beer at The Bingley Arms in 953 A.D. and the time-tested boozer in Bardsey, North Leeds has been keeping punters refreshed ever since. This ancient ale emporium once hosted a local court and is said to be haunted by a charming cavalier and ghoulish ghost dog — leave without paying at your peril.
Heritage winery Chateau Goulaine is reputedly the world’s oldest — it was established around 1000 A.D. Situated just outside Nantes, it produces some of the world’s finest Muscadet wine — the 20-room chateau sits atop an extensive cellar complex and is surrounded by vineyards and forests.
The Raeapteek Pharmacy has operated from the Town Hall in Tallin, Estonia since at least 1422. While you’re picking up a packet of paracetamol, you can wander through historical exhibits of the weird and wonderful potions that were prescribed to the patients of yesteryear — the powdered unicorn horn is said to be particularly potent.
Monte Dei Paschi di Siena is the world’s oldest bank — this long-established lender has been operating since 1472 when it offered loans with affordable interest to the working people of Siena in modern day Italy. It’s grown from modest beginnings into Italy’s third-largest bank, but recently benefitted from a government bail-out.
Founded by two pioneering Frenchmen in 1670, the Hudson’s Bay Company rapidly gained power through fur-trading and was the de facto government of a huge portion of Canada for the next 200 years. It now operates department stores in Canada the US, Germany and Belgium.
When Arthur Guinness signed a 9000-year lease on a run-down brewery in St James’s Gate Dublin in 1759, he can’t have imagined that his signature stout would one day be enjoyed around the world. Guinness is now sold in 49 nations worldwide, with Britain and Nigeria beating Ireland back into third place for the highest annual consumption levels.
Ormiston Wire Limited was founded in the City of London by Scottish entrepreneur James Ormiston back in 1793. Now better known as a catenary wire manufacturer and wire rope tools supplier, it originally made spring wire for corsets and wigs — adaptation to market demands has led to long-term success.
Iconic travel agent Thomas Cook has been operating since 1841, when its eponymous founder organised a rail excursion from Leicester to a temperance meeting in Loughborough. The firm organised the first European package tours in 1855 and the first personally-conducted air tour in 1927 from New York to Chicago for the Dempsey v Tunney world heavyweight title fight.
Founded in 1862, Notts County FC are officially the world’s oldest football club and originally played inside the grounds of the old Nottingham Castle. It was one of 12 founder members of The Football League in 1888 and won the FA Cup in 1894 — the trophy cabinet hasn’t been overburdened since then, but the club’s loyal fans have kept it in business.
If you can emulate the success of these 10 oldest operational businesses, your descendants will thank you.
What’s your favourite heritage firm? Share your thoughts in the comments section.