What is it that gives a business real staying power? We’ve seen many struggle to stay afloat during the economic disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic, but many businesses in the USA have lasted through several wars, financial meltdowns and even lockdowns and are still going strong.
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But which are the oldest businesses around the country? OnDeck have done their research into the businesses from 89 cities to see which has been going for the longest and there’s some fascinating stories and insights in the world of American history. Here’s what they found…
America's Oldest Businesses
The oldest business the study found was in Philadelphia. The Rowland Co was founded way back in 1732 by Benjamin Rowland, whose ancestor John Rowland had arrived in the USA in 1682. Originally it produced shovels and springs for wagons, but has clearly had to diversify over the intervening 289 years and moved into distributing automotive and truck parts.
Today it specializes in the distribution and fabrication/assembly of industrial power transmission products and is the third oldest company still active in the whole of the USA. As a sign of just how old The Rowland Co is, it’s one of just four of the 89 companies featured in this study to have been founded before 1800.
The next oldest is the Bank of New York Mellon, founded in - unsurprisingly - New York in 1784 by Alex Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers and the first ever Secretary of the Treasury. It was originally known as Bank of New York, gaining its current name in 2007 when it was merged with Mellon Financial.
The third oldest is Boston’s State Street, the second oldest continually operating bank in the USA - after Bank of New York Mellon, of course. It was founded as Union Bank in 1792, with another bank known as State Street opening in 1891 and the two banks merged in 1925 to become known as State Street.
The only other business on the list to date back to the 18th Century, Baltimore Equitable began in 1794, making it the third-oldest fire insurance company in the USA. The company is still around today as are plenty of signs of its work in the past, in the form of The Sign of the Clasped Hands. It was painted on the outside of houses around Baltimore to show that they were insured against fire damage.
America's 19th Century Businesses
Many of the oldest businesses in America’s biggest cities date back to the 19th century, starting with Buffalo’s Hodgson Russ LLP, which was founded in 1817 by Asa Rice, who played a crucial role eight years later in the completion of the Erie Canal, while Hodgson Russ also drafted Buffalo’s first city charter in 1832.
In 1819, Jacob Bromwell set up Bromwell’s in Cincinnati, having moved from Baltimore. Initially the business sold supplies to fellow settlers before moving into manufacturing metal homeware, eventually settling on manufacturing fireplaces. This is what Bromwell’s is still famous for, over 200 years later.
Newspapers began to gain prominence around this time and the Fort Wayne Sentinel and Toledo Blade both began production in the 1830s. The Sentinel suspended activities in April 2020 as the pandemic began, but the Blade is still going strong. It gets its name from the swordsmithing industry of Toledo in Spain.
One of the biggest names in the list was founded in Sacramento in 1854. Wells Fargo was set up by William G. Fargo from New York and Henry Wells from Vermont - co-founders of American Express a few years earlier - to cash in on the California gold rush. It nearly had a very short life, surviving the Panic of 1855 which wiped out most of its competitors.
Into The 20th Century
The USA remains a fairly young country compared to many others, so perhaps it’s no surprise that 23 of the 89 cities in the list have an oldest company that only dates back to the 20th century. The youngest of these is Virginia Beach’s The Terry Peterson Companies, while the Flamingo Hotel & Casino is Paradise, Nevada’s oldest business, having been founded in 1947.
The Golden Gate Casino in Las Vegas and Historical Railroad Pass Hotel in Henderson are two other Nevada casinos that have outlasted every other business in their cities, while Chesapeake’s H.E. Williams Candy Company was founded in 1919 and is still run over a 100 years later by the founder’s grandchildren, keeping their candy-making in the family.
The businesses in the list that date back to the 20th century sum up the diversity of old companies that have stood the test of time, from newspapers like the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (founded 1900) to the Ganahl Lumber Company in Anaheim (founded 1904) to Price’s Creameries in El Paso (founded 1906) to Chiaramonte’s Deli and Sausages in San Jose (founded 1908).
Why not find out more about some of America’s oldest businesses and see which is the oldest in your hometown?