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The Top 500 of 200 years ago


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The largest companies when capitalism wast just rising. Fun to see who is still around on one form or another (Careful, Bank of America is not the current Bank of America). The comparisons against other countries are also very interesting.






The biggest American corporation in 1812 was the Bank of the United States, chartered by Congress in 1791. Ironically, Congress refused to renew the bank’s charter in 1811, so in 1812 it was in the process of being liquidated. In 1816, Congress would charter an even larger central bank, which would meet the same fate in the 1830s at the hands of President Andrew Jackson.


Two other banks in the top 10 are still with us. The City Bank of New York (No. 5), founded in 1812, is today’s Citigroup Inc. ©, observing its 200th anniversary this year. And the Manhattan Co. (No. 8 ), more recently known as Chase Manhattan, survives as part of JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) Bank of New York (No. 37) is also still around, with Mellon added to its name.


Economic activity at the time was still heavily concentrated in the Northeast. New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania had chartered the most corporations in our 500. Together they account for 63 percent of the companies and 56 percent of corporate capital.


A few caveats call for attention. Although some of the companies in the list, such as Bank of New York, exist in substantially the same form today, others, such as Bank of America (No. 2), aren’t related to extant businesses other than in name. Some surviving companies have long since lost their original identities in mergers; for example, Bank of North America (No. 36), the DNA of which is now a part of Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) The fate of many smaller companies in the list, particularly the turnpikes, is unknown; in many cases, their facilities eventually became part of the public-road network.




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