What’s your guess as to the age of the oldest business in the world? Which industry do you think it serves? I was surprised by the answer, which I’ll get to in a second.
First, let’s put business lifespans into perspective. According to one study, the average lifespan of publicly-traded companies is about ten years. And in a NY Times article, Gene Marks says the average lifespan of a private small business is about 8.5 years. In both cases, public and private, the averages don’t change across industries.
When talking about global commerce, the US is, of course, the new kid on the block. We don’t have anything “old” compared to the rest of the world.
The oldest company in the US is the Shirley Plantation, founded in 1613. It’s a family-owned farm still operated by direct descendants of the founders. But that’s not the oldest business on our continent. That honor belongs to Mexico with La Casa de Moneda de México, a mint established in 1534.
The Oldest Business in the World
Now, let’s get to the true old-timers of the business world. Age is one of those unique branding elements that you only get by serving your customers well for a long time. For instance, it’s going to be hard to take the title “oldest business in the world” from this company.
The oldest operating business is Kongo Gumi in Japan, founded in 578. It’s a construction company that specializes in shrines and temples. It was going strong for centuries until corporate debt brought it to its knees. In 2006 it lost its independent status and became a subsidiary of Takamatsu Construction Group.
Here are the remaining nine of the top ten oldest continuously operating businesses in the world, sorted by their founding date. Of the top ten it might not come as a surprise that two are restaurants and three are related to alcohol. Our consumer natures seem to surface in every culture.
- 803 Austria, St. Peter Stifts Kulinarium (Restaurant)
- 862 Germany, Staffelter Hof (Winery)
- 864 France, Monnaie de Paris (Mint)
- 886 England, The Royal Mint (Mint)
- 900 Ireland, Sean’s Bar (Pub)
- 1040 Italy, Pontificia Fonderia Marinelli Bell (Foundry)
- 1074 Belgium, Affligem Brewery (Brewery)
- 1135 Denmark, Munke Mølle (Mill)
- 1153 China, Ma Yu Ching’s Bucket Chicken House (Restaurant)
The oldest businesses on each remaining continent are as follows:
In South America, the Casa de Moneda de Colombia is a Bogotá-based mint founded in 1621.
Africa’s oldest business is Mauritius Post, a postal company started in 1772 when the country was under French rule.
Similar to Africa, Oceania’s oldest company is Australia Post, now known as AusPost, which is a postal business founded in more recent times—1809.
Antarctica isn’t included for obvious reasons.
Here’s an infographic list of the oldest companies in nearly every country of the world. The data and graphics are courtesy of a study conducted by our colleagues at BusinessFinancing.co.uk. Countries where they couldn’t get data are not included. The researchers also did their best to verify that each business is still operating today.