As 2011 came to a close, with the buzz and frenzy over the upcoming Facebook (www.Facebook.com) IPO, we asked you to tell us the first company in the world that ever issued stock, where it was incorporated, the year stock was issued, whether it paid a dividend and whether it – or actually a successor corporation – is still around.
Drum roll . . . . . .
The Dutch East India Company (in Dutch: Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC) was established in 1602, and although one other company had been chartered (incorporated) before it, the Dutch East India Company was the first to issue stock. Perhaps the quasi-sovereignty of Google (www.Google.com), Facebook (www.Facebook.com) and other mega-corporations should not be so surprising since my own research uncovered the fact that its charter permitted the company to wage war, imprison and execute convicts, negotiate treaties, and even establish colonies and coin money. And that was in 1602! It must have been doing something right back then because the Dutch East India Company actually paid an 18 percent annual dividend for almost 200 years. Unfortunately, the company became fraught with corruption and by 1800, having gone bankrupt, it was formally dissolved as a corporation, with its land holdings becoming the Dutch East Indies which, over the course of ensuing centuries, expanded into what is now known as Indonesia.