Have you ever stopped to think about where your go-to household items come from? There's a business behind everything you buy, from pencils and stationery to soap and toothpaste. And while some of these companies are relatively new, many have been around for centuries.
Some of the big American businesses we know today are even older than the nation itself. Companies such as Jim Beam and Crane & Co. have rich histories and are still run by the same families that started them more than 200 years ago. Other well-known corporations, like Citigroup, were founded through mergers of much older companies with equally interesting histories.
Here's a brief history of 15 of the oldest and most enduring companies in the United States.
The still-thriving perfume and soap company was started by Dr. William Hunter as an apothecary shop in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1752. Hunter served his distinguished clientele living in the nearby "cottages," supplying their "medicinals" as well as their perfumes and personal care products, according to the company's website. George Washington gave a bottle of "Cologne Number 6" to the Marquis de Lafayette, and Lewis and Clarke took its products on their cross-country trek. Today, Caswell-Massey is owned by a private investment group and is based in New Jersey, with a store in New York City.
The Hartford Courant (1764)
The Connecticut-based newspaper was established in 1764 by printer Thomas Green as the "Connecticut Courant" and is known for being America's oldest newspaper in continuous publication, according to its website. In fact, the Courant's slogan to this day is "older than the nation." The publication boasts some impressive historical moments, too. According to the Courant's website, George Washington placed an ad in the paper, Mark Twain once tried to buy stock in the paper, and Thomas Jefferson sued the publication for libel and lost. The paper was also run by one of the country's first woman publishers, Hannah Watson, in 1777. Today, the Hartford Courant is owned by the Tribune Co., and boasts a daily circulation of 120,000.
Baker's Chocolate (1765)
The chocolate company was founded just outside Boston in 1765 by a Harvard-educated doctor named James Baker and an Irish immigrant named John Hannon, according to The Bostonian Society. Hannon made his first recorded chocolate sale in 1772, but in 1779, Hannon embarked on a journey to the West Indies to buy cocoa, but never returned, leaving Baker to take over the business. In 1780, the company began making its first Baker's branded chocolate, and eventually expanded their line of products from unsweetened chocolate to cocoa powders, sweet chocolate, candy-making chocolate and flavored chocolate bars. Today, the company is owned by Kraft but continues to sell a wide range of Baker's branded products.
The tool company, which today makes everything from garden hoses and reels to professional hand tools, was started by a blacksmith, Captain John Ames, in Massachusetts in 1774. According to the company's website, its shovels were used in numerous landmark events, including the groundbreaking for the B & O Railroad in Baltimore; the building of the transcontinental railroad; the search for California gold in the 1840s; the installation of the Statue of Liberty; Admiral Byrd's exploration of Antarctica; the building of the Hoover Dam; the creation of Mount Rushmore; and the construction of the interstate highway system. Today, Ames is owned by Griffon Corp., a management and holding company, and is based in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.
King Arthur Flour (1790)
King Arthur Flour was founded in 1790 in Boston by Henry Wood, but it wasn't until 1896 that the company got its name. Initially, Wood's business — then known as the Sands, Taylor & Wood Co. — started by importing European flour for use by bakers in the United States, and a century later, the company introduced its own American flour at the Boston Food Fair, according to the company's website. King Arthur Flour's headquarters have since moved to Norwich, Vermont, and now, more than 200 years later, you can still buy King Arthur Flour in stores.
Originally formed in Pennsylvania in 1792 as INA (Insurance Co. of North America), Cigna was the first marine insurance company in the United States, according to the company's website. In 1982, INA merged with the Connecticut General Life Insurance Co., also known as CG, which was formed in 1865, to become Cigna. The company, headquartered in Bloomfield, Connecticut, is still the nation's oldest stockholder-owned insurer.
Dixon Ticonderoga (1795)
If you've ever had to fill out an exam with a No. 2 pencil, Dixon Ticonderoga should be a familiar name. The graphite-pencil company started out all the way back in 1795, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Dixon Ticonderoga formed during a merger between the Joseph Dixon Crucible Co. and the Bryn Mawr Corp., and started making pencils in the 1830s. The company's headquarters were in Jersey City, New Jersey, for more than 100 years, but the company is now based in Lake Mary, Florida. You can find out more about the history of the company on its website. [See Related Story: 5 Cool Careers for History Buffs]
Jim Beam (1795)
Bourbon was born in the 1770s when corn farmers of the Kentucky region of Virginia distilled their excess crop into a sweeter whiskey, according to Jim Beam's website. In 1795, history was made when distiller Jacob Beam sold his first barrel of whiskey, called "Old Jake Beam Sour Mash," from the family distillery, which was known as "Old Tub." The company didn't change its name to Jim Beam until 1943, named after Colonel James B. Beam, the fourth generation of the Beam family to take over the distillery. In 2005, the company sold its 10-millionth barrel of whiskey, according to the website. Today, it is run by the seventh generation of the Beam family, Frederick Booker Noe III.
Crane and Co. (1799)
In 1770, Stephen Crane took over Massachusetts' first paper mill, the Liberty Paper Mill, and in1799, the company relocated to a new mill in Dalton, Massachusetts, and taken over by Stephen's son, Zenas. Since then, the company has provided high-end, 100-percent-cotton paper for both personal and business uses, according to the company's website. Paul Revere used Crane paper and was even known to pasture his horses at the original Liberty Paper Mill. The Queen of England is a fan of Crane and Co. stationary, using it for her 100th birthday celebration announcement, according to the website. The company has also supplied paper to the U.S. Treasury to print money since 1879, and is still owned by the same family.
When you think DuPont, you probably think of an innovative, modern company. But in fact, DuPont was founded in Delaware in 1802 by E.I. du Pont, a Frenchman with an expertise in making gunpowder. In 1804, du Pont built his first powder mill on the Brandywine River, using bark from willow trees for charcoal to create black powder, according to the company's website. Since then, the company has made everything from dyes and sweater fibers to film for Hollywood movies. Today, it holds trademarks on everything from Corian countertops to Teflon and Kevlar.
Colgate wasn't always a toothpaste company. Actually, Colgate was started by William Colgate in 1806 in New York City, and the business sold soaps and candles, eventually introducing perfumes in 1866, according to the company's website. The company then debuted its "Colgate aromatic toothpaste in jars" in 1873. In 1928, Colgate merged with soap company Palmolive, which was originally founded in 1864 in Milwaukee. Now, Colgate has sales of more than $15 billion and sells its products in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide, according to its website.
You can still buy Pfaltzgraff dinnerware in department stores today, but its roots go back to the early 1800s, when the Pfaltzgraff family immigrated to the United States and set up a small potter's wheel and kiln on their modest 21-acre homestead in York County, Pennsylvania, according to the company's website.The earliest Pfaltzgraff market was defined to be "as far as you can get with a horse and a wagon and then get back home the same day." In 2005, Pfaltzgraff became part of Lifetime Brands, which owns Farberware, KitchenAid, Cuisinart and others.
The bank was originally founded in 1812 as the City Bank of New York, run by company president Samuel Osgood. The bank opened with $2 million in capital. In 1865, the bank joined the U.S. National banking system and was renamed The National City Bank of New York, and in 1894, it became the largest bank in the United States, according to the company's website. National City Bank opened its first foreign branch in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1914. After several name changes throughout the years, the company merged with Travelers Group in 1998 to become Citigroup, the company we know today.
Louisville Stoneware (1815)
Louisville Stoneware is one of the oldest stoneware manufacturers in the country. The company was founded in 1815 and has been making stoneware products for the home and garden ever since. Visitors interested in seeing a behind-the-scenes look at the historic company — or those who just love pottery — can go to the company's headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky, to take a tour of the factory and even paint their own pottery using the same tools as the company's artisans, according to the company's website.
Brooks Brothers (1818)
Brooks Brothers is the oldest clothing retailer in America, dating all the way back to 1818 — the same year Congress decided the United States flag should have 13 red and white stripes and 20 stars, according to the company's website. The very first Brooks Brothers store, formerly known as D. H. Brooks & Co., opened in New York on April 7. In 1849, the company introduced its first ready-made suits, and in 1896, Brooks Brothers released their original button-down polo shirt. Now, the company has more than 250 retail and factory stores in the United States as well as more than 250 locations internationally, according to the website.
Business News Daily Managing Editor Jeanette Mulvey also contributed to this story.