While there are some truly massive companies that exist today, they don’t truly compare to the behemoths that existed in previous times. The main reason for this is that despite the significantly higher populations that exist today, business conditions will never be as inviting as they were for a select few in the past. True monopolies are rare today, and none exist that are of the size in previous centuries. Royal interests often allowed companies exclusive access to resources that companies must compete for today. Wealth was often much more concentrated in the upper tier of society, and competition from small businesses was almost non-existent. But without further delay, let’s get on to the largest companies that have ever existed in history.
- Dutch East India Company (Year 1637): In 1637, the Dutch East India Company was unimaginably huge. Adjusted to 2012 dollars, it was worth over $7.4 trillion dollars! It has also a very unique claim to fame that helped it achieve this ridiculous level of worth. It was the first publicly traded company in the world, which lead to rampant speculation and what is possibly the biggest buble in history. Like all bubbles, it went on to pop, but that didn’t prevent DEIC from becoming the largest company to ever exist before it did. Amazingly enough, just over 150 years later in 1800 the company would cease operations entirely.
- The Mississippi Company (Year 1720): In 1720, this company was worth the modern equivalent of $6 trillion dollars. In what is one of the most interesting tales in business history, this company experienced a rise and fall that rivals tech companies of the Dot-Com bubble. It was originally founded in 1684 to facilitate trade with the New World. By 1717, the company was struggling mightily. So how did it go from struggling to the second largest company in history in a period of 3 years? It was bought up by a banker John Law who changed its business strategy and acquired vast swaths of land. Ridiculous real estate speculation of the value of the land drove stock prices to twenty times their original price. However, the bubble burst and the company came crashing down. The French government declared their shares worthless and the company declared bankruptcy and ceased operations.
- The South Sea Company (Year 1720): In 1720, this company was valued at $4 trillion dollars in modern currency. Yes, 1720 was a crazy year. The story largely aligns, with rampant speculation causing massive overpricing. However, it has a (slightly) happier ending. While the Mississippi Company relied solely on land valuations for business, The South Sea Company did have a true business. When share prices collapsed back to reality, the company was able to leverage their legitimate trade business to stay afloat. As trade declined, the company moved to government debt management. Eventually, it was dissolved in the mid-19th century over 100 years later.