Hudson Bay Company history begins at the dawn of industry in North America. Hudson’s Bay Company is the oldest company in North America, currently celebrating over 350 years of business.
Read on to learn how this institution began as fur-trading posts and evolved into the institution that remains to this day. It’s so old, in fact, that Hudson’s Bay Company can be traced back before the United States itself.
Hudson Bay Company History: Formation and Early Years
Before even the most famous American manufacturers, the story of the Hudson’s Bay Company begins with two Frenchmen: Médard Chouart and Pierre-Esprit Radisson. Together, they secured a large supply of valuable furs in the Hudson Bay area. Prince Rupert, believing their enterprise to be potentially profitable to his cousin the king, granted them exclusive trading rights under the Royal Charter in 1670.
This meant that English settlers traveling to the Hudson Bay area in Canada had to trade furs with Hudson’s Bay Company. Thus, the trading empire was formed.
For a century, Hudson’s Bay Company employed fur trappers who traded their hauls for manufactured goods in the area. By the late 1700s, competition had sprung up. Hudson’s expanded West, building new posts and forts in areas that would become busy metropolitan centers in Canada.
Of all its competition, Hudson feared only the North West Company, a rival fur-trading empire that sprung up in Montreal. In 1821, these companies merged together into the modern Hudson’s Bay Company. Their power now reached across the continent, even stretching down into territories that would eventually belong to the United States, such as Oregon and Washington.
Keeping with the Times: Hudson Bay Company History in Transition
As a fashion company, Hudson’s Bay Company had to keep up with trends. The birth of modern retail in the late 1800s brought the concept of cash payments to the trading posts (no more bartering!). This then meant diversifying away from just furs, providing anything, even manufactured goods, that people might want to buy with their gold.
This rebranding then climaxed in 1912 with the creation of the Hudson’s Bay Company department stores. These 6 major stores consolidated their services. Modern retail meant they could sell anything they wanted, from coffee to salmon. They could do it for cash payments in growing, well-known stores around Canada.
Hudson Bay Company History in the Modern Day
Hudson’s Bay Company fell into tough times in the later 1900s following further shifts in retail structures. In 1987, they sold many department stores to recoup huge debts. However, they were one of the first companies to convert their business to eCommerce. In 2000, Hudson created its online retail stores, as well as its customer loyalty program.
Today, Hudson’s retains many of its signature products, as well as multiple businesses throughout North America. These still include department stores, including the venerated Hudson’s Bay.
Hudson Bay Company history begins before the dawn of retail. 350 years ago, two Frenchmen formed a series of trading posts that would become an empire.
Empires rise and fall, as we can see throughout Hudson’s rocky history. However, well-founded companies can stand the test of time. It may not be the empire it once was, but Hudson’s Bay Company continues to this day.