From the 1800s to today: The world’s oldest technology companies
Business Management

From the 1800s to today: The world’s oldest technology companies

When did the age of computing start? Was it the code-breaking Colossus, built in the 1940s? Try the  mid-1800s. Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine may never have been built in his lifetime, but the Babbage Difference Engine was the first example of a computer.

What about the time of technology companies? IBM, founded 1911 is generally known for its transformation from tabulation machines under the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company (CTR) name before evolving into the technology giant it is today. But again, no. The Electric Telegraph Company was the world's first public telegraph company and founded in 1846. Today we know it as BT.

Tommy Flowers, inventor of Colossus, is not as well-known as he ought to be… We look at why in: Tommy Flowers: The Forgotten Father of Computing?

Here are the other technology companies that began trading in the 1800s and have survived to today.


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1846 – BT

Founded in the United Kingdom in 1846, the Electric Telegraph Company was the world's first public telegraph company. It merged with International Telegraph Company a decade later to become the Electric and International Telegraph Company. This was merged with a number of other telegraph companies under the UK Post Office, before eventually being spun out again under the British Telecom moniker in 1970s. Today the company offers broadband, mobile and TV services, a variety of managed IT services, and networking products.


Siemens logo



1847 – Siemens

German industrial manufacturing company Siemens began life as Telegraphen-Bauanstalt von Siemens & Halsk in Berlin, manufacturing electrical telegraphs. As well as some of the first telegraph lines, Siemens & Halsk built the world's first electric streetcar line, patented the dynamo, and then expanded into new markets such as radios and TVs. Today the company has over 300,000 employees, global revenue of over €83 billion, and offers all manners of products and software for automating processes.


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1851 - Corning

Though perhaps not a technology company in the same sense as some of the others on this list. Corning – founded in 1851 in Somerville, Massachusetts as the Bay State Glass Co. – are the company behind Gorilla Glass, the resistant glass used in early iPhones. 


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1865 – Nokia

The Nokia that today provides much of the world’s telecoms infrastructure and at one point had near-total dominance of the mobile phone market began life as a pulp mill in southern Finland. From there, Nokia expanded into supplying electricity and making rubber, and eventually into radio equipment.


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1869 - Cable & Wireless

An early competitor to BT, Cable & Wireless, can trace its roots back to the late 1860s and Sir John Pender’s Falmouth, Malta, Gibraltar Telegraph Company and British Indian Submarine Telegraph Company. Like BT, it was rolled into the Post Office after World War II and spun back out under Margaret Thatcher’s privatization plans in the early 1980s. C&W’s worldwide business was acquired by Vodafone in 2012, but the Cable & Wireless Communications name continues to exist and operate in small markets as a subsidiary of Liberty Global.


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1875 – Toshiba

Originally founded as Tanaka Seisakusho, before being renamed Shibaura Seisakusho and eventually Toshiba after merging with Tokyo Denki (Tokyo Electric), the company started out manufacturing telegraph and other communications equipment. Throughout the 1900s the company has had interests in computers, mobile phones, TV & video, semiconductors, Nuclear power, healthcare, and more.


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1879 - GE

Born out of a merger between the Thomson-Houston Electric Company and various parts of the Thomas Edison business empire, General Electric (now known as GE) is as massive now as it was back in the latter part of the 19th Century. Of the 12 original companies listed on the first Dow Jones, GE is the only one still present. Through the years its business interests have involved energy, aerospace, transportation, oil, healthcare, financial services, and more. GE was a big player in the computing space during the 1960s, and today is competing in the industrial and IoT space with its Predix platform.

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1892 – Kapsch

Austrian company Kapsch was originally known as Telefon- und Telegrafen-Fabriks-Aktiengesellschaft Kapsch & Söhne in Wien (‘Telephone and Telegraph Manufacturing Stock Company Kapsch & Sons in Vienna’) specializing in telegraph equipment, conductors, and telephone equipment. Today it provides a range of products and services for telecommunication, telematics, and industrial electronics.


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1876 - Ericsson

Founded by Lars Magnus Ericsson, Ericsson started life as a telegraph repair shop in Stockholm. Today the Swedish telecoms giant is a multi-billion-dollar company with nearly 100,000 employees around the globe, selling network infrastructure, telecoms managed services, and more.



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1885 - AT&T

Founded in 1885 as the American Telephone and Telegraph Company – but closely tied to Alexander Graham Bell’s Bell Telephone Company from the previous decade – AT&T grew to be one of, if not the, largest telephone company of the early to mid-20th Century, and still has a large share of the wireless market. The company has gone through various breakups and mergers over the years. Its Bell Labs – now owned by Nokia – has been involved in some of the biggest milestones in technology, including the development of transistors, the C language and Unix Operating System.   


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1885 – Ferranti

Largely known for its work in electrical engineering and equipment, UK-founded Ferranti entered the computing market in the 1940s, some 55 years into its history. The Ferranti Mark 1 is known as the world's first commercially available general-purpose electronic computer. Ferranti the company folded in 1993 but Ferranti Computer Systems – which provides IT infrastructure – continues on a subsidiary of the Netherlands-based Nijkerk Group.

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1887 - Océ

Originating in the Netherlands, Océ started out manufacturing machines for coloring butter and margarine. A desire to make better blueprint paper led to the company entering the printing and copying market during the 1910s. Today Océ exists as a subsidiary of Canon, offering printing and digital workflow solutions.


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1888 – Kodak

US imaging company Kodak was one of the earliest photography companies, selling cameras, film, and the developing chemicals. The company survived the switch to digital photography, just about kept afloat during the switch to smartphones, and today lends its name to phones, tablets, digital scanners, and (for reasons unknown) a cryptocurrency mining machine.








1889 – Nintendo

Today Nintendo is a gaming giant known as the maker of the GameBoy and Nintendo Switch. Back in 1899 the company was handmaking playing cards in Kyoto. How times change.


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1891 – Philips

The Dutch-founded Philips was started by father and son team Frederik and Gerard Philips to make lamps. Today the company’s product line not only includes lights and TVs but is now expanding into the smarthome and IoT spaces.


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1895 - ÅF

Formed in Malmö, Sweden, on what we can only guess was a cold February day in 1895, the Southern Swedish Steam Generator Association was tasked with checking the safety of steam generators. Today, ÅF provides consultancy in the energy, industrial and infrastructure sectors, looking at how adopting new technologies can help.


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1895 – Anritsu

The Japanese company Sekisan-sha was also founded in 1895. By 1903 it had evolved into Anritsu and was demonstrating wireless communication transmitters. Today is provides telecoms analyzers, testing equipment, and optical devices.




1898 – KUKA

German robotics manufacturer KUKA began life as Acetylenwerk für Beleuchtungen in Augsburg in 1899, building affordable Illumination for houses and streets. From there it developed automatic welding systems in the 1950s, the FAMULUS industrial robots of the 1970s, and today offers multi-axis robots for all manner of manufacturing.


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1899 - NEC

Japanese conglomerate Nippon Electric Company (now known as NEC) was founded in 1899 and, like many companies on this list, initially made and sold telephones and switches. Today the company makes electronic components and devices, as well as providing all manner of network and telecoms services.



1900 – NEP

Headquartered in Forest City, Pennsylvania, the North-Eastern Pennsylvania Telephone Company (NEP) was founded in 1900 and has been operating within the state since then, offering internet packages, phone services and the like. Who says you have to be massive to achieve longevity?



Also read:
BT wants its research back in the public eye
Tommy Flowers: The Forgotten Father of Computing?
Tommy Flowers’ legacy: Computers vs. telephones
Forgotten tech father: Bill Tutte vs. Alan Turing?
Ada Lovelace: Seven odd facts about the first programmer
A history of computer code in cars
The history of voice technology


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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect. Writes about all manner of tech from driverless cars, AI, and Green IT to Cloudy stuff, security, and IoT. Dislikes autoplay ads/videos and garbage written about 'milliennials'.  

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