I had fun with Wikipedia’s List of Oldest Companies after I bounced onto it randomly, and of course it included a geographic component. I decided to examine claims for various nations using the list as a starting point.
I think it’s important to stress that these are only claims. References and websites for individual companies often hedge their assertion with qualifiers such as "reputed to be" or "probably" so I wouldn’t insist that any of these are the absolute oldest even though they would certainly qualify as ancient within their particular realms.
Japan – Oldest in the World
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The oldest continuously-operated company in the world today is likely (notice the qualifier) Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan hotel which is located at a hot spring in Hayakawa, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan. Actually the first several companies on the list are all located in Japan. Japanese firms dominate the entire category. There’s something about Japanese culture that nurtures and protects these mostly modest endeavors for a millennium or more. Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan has been around since the year 705 according to Guinness World Records.
Oddly, Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan captured the longevity title only recently. Kongo Gumi, a Japanese temple builder, ruled the roost until 2006. Kongo Gumi was established and remained under the control of a single family starting in 578 before succumbing to 21st Century economic pressures. Imagine poor Masakazu Kongo, the 40th and final company leader, who failed to pass down what the previous 39 generations of his family had preserved.
Speaking of temple building, I noticed a rather startling swastika symbol south of the Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan hotel. I clicked the tag and dropped the Japanese characters into translation software that identified it as a Buddhist temple. Some basic research confirmed that "on Japanese maps, a swastika (left-facing and horizontal) is used to mark the location of a Buddhist temple." It’s perfectly proper in this context albeit it came as a jolt to me because of my westernized point of reference.
Flickr by marketing deluxe via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License
An example from continental Europe followed next after a parade of Japanese occurrences. It was the Stiftskeller St. Peter in Salzburg, Austria, a restaurant that dated back at least to the year 803 (map). The restaurant claimed that it was "mentioned for the first time by the scholar Alcuin, a follower of Emperor Charlemagne, thus regarded as the oldest restaurant in Europe."
It also interested me because Stiftskeller St. Peter is contained within the confines of St. Peter’s Archabbey (Stiftskeller translates to Abbey Basement). I learned a new word today too: an archabbey is a principal abbey of the Order of Saint Benedict. One can dine within a Benedictine monastery like people have done since the 9th Century.
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Several people from the UK subscribe to the Twelve Mile Circle so I wanted to feature something from the British Islands. The oldest company is believed to be a pub called The Bingley Arms in Bardsey, West Yorkshire. As the pub described it, "The Bingley Arms, or The Priests Inn as it was called hundreds of years ago, has a known history that dates back as far as 953AD when Samson Ellis brewed in the central part of the building. However, evidence suggests that it might even date back to 905AD and was standing before All Hallows Church, just a few yards away, was built in 950AD."
Then it talks about the usual ghost stories and stuff which is typical of just about every website describing ancient places.
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No company in the so-called "New World" will compare favorably to Asian or European business longevity. The Native Americans had completely different cultural norms so notions of family businesses passed down through multiple generations had to wait until European settlement. The oldest example was a farm along the James River in Charles City County Virginia — Shirley Plantation — established in 1613. Bear in mind that the first permanent English colony at Jamestown (my visit) didn’t happen until 1607 so Shirley Plantation followed the original landing by a mere six years. That makes the date quite remarkable within its context.
The top tier of ancient establishments in the US were all farms. The oldest non-farm was The Seaside Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine that’s been operated continuously since 1667. They say that, "9th Generation Family Innkeepers make us America’s oldest running family run business." Well, except for the farms, I guess.
Canada and Australia
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Canada’s oldest business may be the most well-known of the lot, the Hudson’s Bay company founded in 1670. I decided to show Hudson Bay rather than the company’s headquarters in some generic office tower in Toronto (street view).
Ditto for Australia. I can’t add much visual impact by showing the Brisbane headquarters of the Australian Agricultural Company, founded in 1824. Today they "operate 19 cattle stations, two feedlots and three farms across more than 7.2 million hectares of land across Queensland and the Northern Territory."
I’m progressing better than I expected with my off-season website maintenance plan. It has provided an unexpected opportunity to hammer-out one final post in 2011. I’ve decided to use the downtime to reflect on accomplishments at the Twelve Mile Circle during the last year. I posted 156 articles over the year — generally three per week — and I never seemed to lack for new material. Some articles were more memorable than others for various reasons and this is my "greatest hits" compilation.
The blog continued to evolve. Every article centered on pure geo-oddities four years ago. Today, other facets of my personality interweave into the narrative in interesting and often subconscious ways. I have no way of knowing if my efforts attract or repel readers over time although I seem to have a loyal core that’s stuck with me since the beginning. I’ve never worried much about popularity either; I just write what I write and people are welcome to tag along if it suits their purpose. I’d focus on political polarization or celebrity gossip if I really cared about numbers. Seriously, what percentage of the population really cares about Google’s efforts to add county lines to its maps?
I tried to determine my Top 10 articles for 2011 although it didn’t quite turn out that way. I did narrow it down to 10 Categories with 25 links, so that seems good enough. I won’t feel insulted if you skip past my list of recycled trash and wait for fresh material to arrive in the new year.
Extraordinary Reader Contributions
I like to pretend that I write solely for myself although reader affirmation creates abundant motivation especially on those days when I’m feeling lazy. I love receiving comments even though they’re sometimes a double-edged sword. Some of it is amazing and leads to great articles. Other times I slog through messages from school kids or conspiracy theorists looking for me to handle their research, which I promptly delete.
Mostly it’s good. I got to meet a County Counter Extraordinaire and experience an insider’s view of Geo-Oddities of Portland, Oregon. Then I received evidence of an extremely rare continental U.S. West Coast Sunrise over Water. Finally, I learned about what may arguably be the Shortest International Bridge.
There were many other wonderful adventures shared by 12MC readers. All of them were appreciated even if they didn’t make it onto the list today. Please keep those comments and suggestions coming.
It’s natural that a geo-enthusiast would like to explore new places in person. Occasionally 12MC imitates a travelogue. Those pages don’t seem to be as popular with the audience for some unknown reason although I’m rather fond of them so they will continue. You either enjoyed or suffered through — depending on your outlook — a visit to the international Borders and Boundaries of Saint Martin, a backstage peek at Disney World, or a family vacation in Utah.
Travel in My Own Backyard
I’ve stated many times that geo-oddities can be discovered everywhere, even in those places closest to home. The 12MC audience got a flavor throughout the year as I continued to explore various nooks in my little corner of the world. I had a great time Circling the MDVAWV Tripoint and tagging along on a Jamestown Field Trip with a busload of fourth grade schoolchildren.
Regular readers may not appreciate the travelogue aspect as much as I do but they’re crazy about the puzzles. They create great audience interaction and people seem to respond to them. They follow a simple formula: I’ll offer a peculiar example and invite people to find better ones. These articles require the least amount of effort on my part and yet they still generate the most audience interest. I feel like I’m being lazy. I have a bit more respect for the ones that actually require me to do something, like the recent Most Landlocked State and Alphabetical Circle. Expect to see more of these in coming months even though I’m a bit puzzled by the reaction to these puzzles.
I’ve noted upfront on several occasions that I am an historian by education, not a geographer. I also don’t pursue either of those interestrs professionally because life has a way of moving in directions that one can’t anticipate. 12MC is the vehicle for this pseudo-historian-geographer to dabble in topics as a hobby and have fun. That probably explains a lot. It’s not surprising then that historical themes weave themselves into articles with regularity. The Twelve Mile Circle could have been an odd history blog interspersed with geography topics just as easily as could have taken its chosen direction. Then, articles such as Erasing Van Buren and Penciling-In Reagan would have been the norm rather than the exception.
I’m happy to watch my older son gain geographic awareness as he progresses towards becoming geo-geek. I saw that when he cataloged All Those Modes of Transportation and when he designed his own town, Oreton. That’s a good thing.
I’ve said it before and it deserves repeating: I’m high-brow and low-brow simultaneously with nothing in between. I had a fun time with Looney Tunes Geography and then trying to locate 132 and Bush from the television show COPS. I also did my best curmudgeon impression when I complained about What’s Almost Heaven? I suffered through a weekend of Thelma and Louise practically frame-by-frame so that I could recreate their route. Nobody seemed to appreciate that last sacrifice as much as I did, but that’s fine. I get a ton of random hits on that page from various search engines.
Inspiration will come from odd sources. Sometimes I’ll simply stare at an object or a place and an overlooked aspect will come into focus. It’s probably unnatural for anyone to think too deeply about the My Little Poni paradox or the people who live above a church in Divine Apartments, or even some random Stair Step Border. Maybe they exist solely to make the world a tiny bit more interesting.
We all get confused from time-to-time and it provides great material when handled in a good-natured way. Several examples came to light in a series of three Mistaken Identity articles. Sometimes it an intentional act: " Not Fusion, CONfusion." I still chuckle every time I drive by that Salvadorean-Mexican-Chinese Restaurant.
I can’t take my eye off that border war between Bibb and Monroe Counties in Georgia. It’s a zombie topic that refuses to die. I thought it was finally going to be resolved but it sputtered back to life almost immediately. The Governor of Georgia has been asked to get involved again even during the last few days.
Those are my personal choices from 2011. Are there any audience favorites that I missed? You can always check the Complete Index. The 2011 articles start with Coteau des Prairies.
I’ll be back with new material and a normal publication schedule on January 1.
I had the pleasure of serving a parent chaperone for my son’s school field trip to Jamestown last week. Admittedly, the thought of accompanying two busloads of children aged nine-to-ten sounded a bit daunting and it definitely had its challenges at times. I thought it was going to unfold like an uglier and much less enjoyable version of Weekend Roady but it turned out for the best. I’m not sure what magic the teachers possess but I’d like to get my hands on some of it. The little darlings behaved much better for their teachers than they’ve ever behaved for their parents.
We are a bit spoiled in a sense in the Washington, DC area. The kids take two or three field trips a year to various sites along the National Mall and the string of Smithsonian museums. That would be the “big trip” for many schoolchildren further afield who might visit the Nation’s capital perhaps a single time in their pre-adult lives if they’re lucky.
Fourth grade provides an opportunity to explore beyond the Beltway. The curriculum shifts to state history for the duration of the school year. This draws considerable attention to various sites along the Virginia Peninsula located between the James and York Rivers.
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The students had been studying the first permanent English settlement in what would later become the United States — Jamestown – and now they were about to see it in person. Two buses rolled from the elementary school parking lot with military precision at exactly 7:00 am for the two and a half hour drive. We arrived just as the kids became restless with the chatter starting to approach slightly unbearable volumes.
The original Jamestown Settlement of 1607 no longer exits. In fact, the original location was lost to history and thought to be submerged beneath the James River until archaeologists rediscovered it in 1996. The current park is a best-guess estimate of the Jamestown Settlement and its surrounding environment presented in a living-history format. In that sense it’s a lot like its adjacent neighbor, Williamsburg (my visit)
We left the buses and followed a tour led by docents. The weather happened to be stunningly perfect: sunny and about 60°f. (16°c.). It doesn’t get any better than that in Virginia in early December. It’s an odd time of year for a tour conducted primarily outdoors and it could have resulted in an entirely different outcome. We thanked our good fortune and pressed onward.
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History curricula at these grade levels often begin with the arrival of Englishmen on the peninsula as if nothing else of consequence existed beforehand. The Algonquins of the Powhatan tribe might beg to differ, and to the museum’s credit that is where the tour began.
The Powhatan Confederacy included some 15,000 people in numerous tributary groups located along the rivers of Virginia’s coastal plain. They lived in structures called yehakins built of woven mats tied to wooden frames of bent saplings. The society relied on farming and hunting, and they settled in stationary villages. The Powhatan were not nomads. Even today, four hundred years later, the Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes of Powhatan Indians retain a remnant of their ancestral lands in Virginia’s Northern Neck.
The students had an opportunity to tour through the yehakins, watch a cooking demonstration, scrape fur from a deer hide, learn about toolmaking, and pound dried corn into cornmeal.
The tour shifted to the arrival of the English settlers on three ships led by Christopher Newport: Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery. I’ve seen reproductions of colonial-era ships before and their diminutive size always amazes me. It’s hard to imagine anyone taking something so small across an ocean. The one pictured above — the reproduced Susan Constant — is the largest of the three. Discovery measured less than forty feet long and yet carried twenty-one men on a open-ocean voyage lasting five months.
We also got a great view of the Jamestown-Scotland ferry unloading vehicles although I was probably the only person impressed by that.
Next we moved on to the settlement itself, a replica of the triangular fort built to protect inhabitants from Native Americans who’d become increasingly annoyed with trespassers and interlopers. Here I noticed a considerable gender difference within our little group of visitors: while the girls seemed to find interests within the totality of the experience, the boys were all about the guns. It’s gender stereotyping, and yet, even at ages nine and ten the children seemed to fall within predictable camps.
We left at 2:00. The teachers mollified their fidgeting hordes by playing a movie on the overhead screens (all other electronics being prohibited for the entire trip): Pocahontas. One can’t talk about Jamestown without mentioning Pocahontas, right? Even this small act hid and educational motivation behind it. The historical inaccuracies of the Disney version practically jumped from the screen when compared side-by-side to the day’s events. The children had great fun poking at various errors, unprompted.
I off course felt compelled to mention the My Little Poni paradox at an appropriate spot along the highway, resulting in an eye-roll from my son. What good is chaperoning if one can’t embarrass one’s own child in front of his peers? Otherwise the return trip was unremarkable and we arrived only ten minutes late. Anyone familiar with Washington, DC traffic on a Friday afternoon will realize that this was a minor miracle in itself.
I’m glad I went. I’m also glad it was only a day trip.