Starting a business is hard enough, but making one thrive and survive, even for a short time, is sometimes nothing less than a miracle. Amazingly, the businesses on this list managed to overcome the odds; many of them have survived for centuries, and all of them are, quite astonishingly, still operating.
Note: These are not the 10 oldest businesses overall, but the oldest companies still in operation in 10 different types of businesses.
10. Video Game Company
Nintendo – Japan
You’re probably thinking that this entry is a mistake, because there is no way that Nintendo was making video games over 125 years ago…which is completely true. The roots of video games started to form in the 1950s. But what’s interesting about the Nintendo Company is that it was founded on September 23, 1889, by Japanese entrepreneur Fusajiro Yamauchi. The first products that the “Nintendo Koppai” made were hand drawn playing cards, called Hanafuda Cards, which were similar to the common 52-card decks, and could be used to play different games. In 1959, Fusajiro Yamauchi’s grandson, Hiroshi Yamauchi, was running the company and made a deal with Disney to print their characters on Nintendo cards. This increased business, and Nintendo went public in 1962.
With investor money, Nintendo took on a bunch of different projects, such as a taxi company, an instant rice company, remote controlled vacuum cleaners, toy making, and “a short stay” hotel chain, which is essentially exactly what it sounds like. Most of the ventures were failures, and Nintendo was facing other problems; the playing card business had been saturated, and they drowning in debt. Luckily for Nintendo, and millions of gamers, one of their ventures helped turned the company around: toy-making.
In 1970, Hiroshi was touring one of Nintendo’s factories and saw an engineer, Gunpei Yokoi, playing with an extending arm that he created. Hiroshi decided to launch the extending arm as an official product called the “Ultra Hand,” and it became a best seller. This changed Nintendo’s direction again, and they began making electronic toys, including a Love Tester.
It was during this time that video games and arcades were gaining some traction, and in 1975 Nintendo released its first video arcade game, EVR Race, which was followed by one of the biggest video games of all time, Donkey Kong. In 1983, they released their own platform, called the Famicom (short for Family Computer) in Japan. Shortly after they released Famicon, the video game market crashed. Nintendo managed to survive the crash, and in 1985 the company released the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America. The rest, as they say, is history.
9. Musical Instrument Manufacturer
Avedis Zildjian Company – Turkey
The most famous cymbal company in the world got its start in 1618 in Constantinople, which is modern day Istanbul, Turkey, when an Armenian alchemist named Avedis tried to make gold using tin, copper, and silver. What he ended up with was an alloy that didn’t break when it was struck; instead, it made a loud crashing noise. The alloy quickly became popular and was used by the Ottoman military band as a tactic to frighten the enemy.
In 1623, Sultan Osman II gave Avedis the family name “Zildjian,” which means “son of cymbal maker.” The family continued to make cymbals in Constantinople until 1929, when Avedis III moved the company to Massachusetts, where it is still in operation today. Currently, the company is run by the 14th generation of the family and they remain the dominant cymbal maker in the world, having 65 percent of the market.
One of the big reasons for Zildjian’s success is the secret alloy formula that was developed by Avedis. Only a handful of people throughout its 400 year history have known what mixture of elements makes Zildjian’s unique sound.
Santa Maria Novella – Italy
The Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy, is the oldest known pharmacy in the world. It started off life as a Dominican monastery in 1221. The friars grew medicinal herbs (quit snickering, you bunch of stoners) in their gardens, and it was used to treat patients in their infirmary. The friars, who had taken a vow of poverty, didn’t open it up to the public until 400 years later in 1612, after word had spread about their balms, ointments, and washes.
Today, the pharmacy still sells many of the concoctions and remedies that it has brewed and sold throughout its 400 year (plus) history, along with modern skin care products and ointments.
7. Amusement Park
Bakken – Denmark
Bakken, the oldest amusement park that is still in operation, first opened to the public in 1583 in Klampenborg, which is just north of Copenhagen, Denmark. Of course, what people find amusing has changed over the years, and 430 years ago they didn’t exactly have the rides that we are familiar with today. Instead, the park consisted of pleasure gardens. In the gardens, there would be dancing, fireworks, and even some primitive rides.
At the time, plenty of cities throughout Europe had similar amusement parks, but many closed in the 1700s. Bakken carried on and evolved throughout the centuries. In 1923, they constructed a wooden roller coaster, and they continued to add modern rides in the following years. The park is still in operation today and admission is free.
6. Printing and Publishing House
Cambridge University Press – England
London’s Cambridge University was first granted a Letters Patent, which is similar to a royal charter, by King Henry the VIII in 1534. This allowed the university to print “all manner of books.” However, due to politics and censors, the university wouldn’t publish its first book until fifty years later. Their first book was Two Treatises of the Lord His Holie Supper, and it was printed by Cambridge’s first printer, Thomas Thomas. Yes, that was his actual name. No, we can’t confirm whether or not his parents did, in fact, hate him.
Since that first book was printed just over 480 years ago, the Cambridge University Press has published a book every single year. This includes works by some of the greatest minds in human history, like John Milton, Isaac Newton, D.H. Lawrence, Noam Chomsky, and Stephen Hawking.
Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena – Italy
The basics of banking, such as lending money, started around 2000 B.C. and it was advanced in Ancient Greece and during the time of the Roman Empire, when bankers would take deposits and exchanged money. In the Middle Ages, in what is modern day Italy, banking evolved even more. One of the banks that helped with that evolution was Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which is located in Siena. Obviously. The bank was founded in 1472, when Siena was still an independent state.
After the Kingdom of Italy was established in 1861, the bank spread to become the third largest bank in Italy. They managed to survive wars between city states, two World Wars, fascism, and they even made it through the 2012 European financial crisis due to a bailout, but in early 2016 they were again in serious financial trouble.
Weihenstephan – Germany
A lot of beer companies brag about their long brewing traditions, but not many breweries are anywhere close to being as old as the Weihenstephan brewery, which is just north of Munich, Germany. The brewery is located in the Weihenstephan Abbey, which was a Benedictine monastery that was established in 725 by Saint Corbinian. In 1040, Abbot Arnold got a license to brew beer and Weihenstephan officially became a brewery.
It wasn’t an easy near-millennium for the brewery. Between 1085 and 1463, the monastery faced a number of tragedies. It burned down four times, endured three plagues, multiple famines, and a massive earthquake. Yet, it survived under the friar’s control until 1803, when the monastery was dissolved because Germany secularized. However, the state kept the brewery going and the beer is still sold to this day in dozens of countries around the world.
Sean’s Bar – Ireland
Before we get into this entry, we feel we should clear the air a bit. We really don’t want to stereotype here, but is anyone truly surprised that the oldest bar in the world is located in Ireland? Well, it’s true. Sean’s Bar, which is located on the west bank of the River Shannon in Athlone, is believed to have been continuously in operation since 900 , and supposedly, there is a record of every owner since it opened. Amazingly, this includes singer Boy George, who briefly owned the bar in 1987. Further proof of the bar’s age was found during a renovation in the 1970s, when workers found a piece of original wall that is made of wattle and wicker. The wall was excavated, and it’s on display in a glass case at the bar.
Sean’s Bar was originally opened as an inn by Luain over 1,110 years ago, and that is where Athlone gets its name from. In Irish, Athlone means Atha Luain, which translates to the “Ford of Luain.” Luain designed the inn with tilted floors so that when it rains, the water runs through the bar and out to the river. This tilted floor is also great for messing with visitors to the bar who have had one or three or six too many. And those visitors have included U2, star athletes, and plenty of American tourists. The boom in American tourism started in the 1980s, after Dallas stars Larry Hagman and Linda Gray became frequent visitors to the bar and expressed their love for it.
Stiftskeller St. Peter – Austria
The restaurant business is notoriously hard. On average, almost 60 percent fail within the first year. It is even more difficult to get to the five year mark. That means having one run continuously for decades is impressive, let alone centuries, but Stiftskeller St. Peter in Salzburg, Austria has been open for a mind-boggling 1,210 years.
The restaurant is part of the original building of St Peter’s Abbey, which is a Benedictine monastery. The earliest reference to the restaurant is found in the 806 writings of Alcuin, who was a follower of Charlemagne. Since then, Stiftskeller has supposedly been continuously open and many dignitaries and celebrities have visited, including Bill Clinton, Clint Eastwood, and Karl Lagerfeld.
Stiftskeller serves traditional Austrian food and once a week, they host a dinner where musicians perform Mozart in traditional period costumes.
Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan – Japan
In the South Japanese Alps (yes, Japan has its own Alps, in case you didn’t know that and were confused) in the Hayakawa, Yamanashi Prefecture, you’ll find the oldest hotel in the world, Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan. The hotel was founded by Fujiwara Mahito in the second year of the Keiun era (which is where the hotel gets its name), which is 705 in the Roman calendar.
Since its opening, the hotel (which is known for its hot springs) has been owned and operated by 52 generations of descendants from the original owner, although a few were adopted in. The hotel, which is close to Mount Fiji, will run you at least $475 to $570 USD per night.
If you’re wondering what the key to their 1,300 years of success is, Fortune speculates that, based on the hotel’s strong reviews, it is their impeccable service.
Also, at 1,300 years old, Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan is not only the oldest hotel in the world, but it is also thought to be the oldest business in operation today. Just to give you some idea as to how old it is, it is 225 years older than the Kingdom of Britain.