The Methuselahs of the corporate world
Swiss Life turns 160 this month. Compared to these ten long-lived companies, that’s actually quite young.
At 160 years of age, Swiss Life has unquestionably earned the right to respect. According to various studies, the average age of a multinational corporation in the industrialised world is between just 40 and 50.
On the other hand, Swiss Life is virtually just a spring chicken compared to these ten Methuselahs of the business world, all of them active to this day. The oldest was founded before the birth of Charlemagne (probably in 747 CE).
What long-lived companies often have in common is a focus on food, beverages and other such pleasures – and the fact that they have been in the hands of one family over the course of many generations.
About Swiss Life
Swiss Life was founded on 28 September 1857 as the Schweizerische Lebensversicherungs- und Rentenanstalt and was the country's first life insurer. What began with just five employees in a little back courtyard near Zurich’s Paradeplatz is today a leading European provider of life and pensions and financial solutions, employing some 7800 people.
10 Vacheron Constantin, Switzerland, 1755
Jean-Marc Vacheron, like many Swiss watchmakers the descendant of French Huguenots, opened his workshop in Geneva in 1755. His business partner François Constantin came up with the company motto, which has evidently served them very well: “Do better if possible, and that is always possible". To this day, the name of the world’s oldest watchmakers is synonymous with fine timepieces. (Image: www.vacheron-constantin.com)
9 Twinings, England, 1706
Talk about longevity: Twinings opened its first tea room in 1706, before the United States attained its independence, at 216 Strand in London – and it still operates at the same location today. The company has not changed its logo since 1787. In a word: timeless! (Image: www.twinings.co.uk)
8 Gaggenau, Germany, 1683
The well-known household appliance manufacturer was founded in 1683 by Margrave Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden as a hammer and nail mill. He turned the iron ore deposits in the Black Forest into a new source of income for impoverished local farmers. Beginning in the late 19th century the company concentrated on iron casting, to which it added the production of gas and electric stoves in the 1930s and, finally, built-in designer devices for private kitchens, which it manufactures to this day. (Image: www.gaggenau.com)
7 Compagnie de Saint-Gobain, France, 1665
Saint-Gobain got its start making mirrors during the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV. Its first major commission was the production of glass for the Hall of Mirrors at the palace in Versailles (photo). In the 1970s the company became an industrial group, producing mainly building materials. It is considered one of the world’s oldest listed enterprises (Image: Myrabella/Wikimedia Commons)
6 Mellerio dits Meller, France, 1613
On 10 October 1613 French Queen Marie de Médicis awarded the Mellerio family the privilege of trading in jewels throughout the kingdom, a privilege renewed by every subsequent French ruler up to and including Louis XVI. Nor did the advent of democracy hamper the jewellers’ success: François and Olivier Mellerio are today the 14th generation in their family to run the business. (Image: www.mellerio.fr)
5 Fonjallaz SA, Switzerland, 1552
The Fonjallaz family have been making wine on the shores of Lake Geneva since 1552. They trace their lineage back to Pierre Fonjallaz, who immigrated to Switzerland from what is now the Haute-Savoie in France. Today, Fonjallaz SA, family run in the 13th generation in Epesses, a village in the canton of Vaud, is the oldest such company in Switzerland. (Image: www.fonjallaz.info)
4 Cambridge University Press, 1534
Henry VIII, the king whose Church of England broke ties with the Pope in Rome, granted Cambridge University Press the right to print books in 1534. The CUP is now the oldest press in the world and holds the rights to the King James Bible, the best-known English-language translation of the two Testaments. The publishing house numbers among its authors such names as Isaac Newton, John Milton and Stephen Hawking.
(Image: Andrew Dunn, Creative Commons)
3 Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan, Germany, 1040
Beer was being brewed at this brewery in Freising, founded in 1040 by Benedictine monks, before the Norman Conquest. It is considered the world’s oldest still extant brewery and today belongs to the German Land of Bavaria. Its best-known product is Weihenstephaner, a wheat beer. (Image: www.weihenstephaner.de)
2 Stiftskeller St. Peter, Austria, 803
Alcuin, a sage of the early Middle Ages from York and among Charlemagne’s leading advisors, first mentioned the St. Peter Stiftskeller in 803 in one of his texts. It is thought to be Europe’s oldest restaurant.
1 Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, Japan, 705
No one can compete with this hotel and hot springs when it comes to history and tradition. It has been run for 52 generations – without a single interruption – by the same family. Opened in 705, a good 40 years before Charlemagne was born, it is listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest hotel in the world.