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he 17th century was the golden age for European colonialism. Some of the biggest companies in world history were created in this time period that brought in such levels of revenue that they dwarf current super-companies. These levels of revenue would allow some of these companies to even become self-governing, often acting outside the authority of the country which created them.

Many have heard of the famous British East India Company, which would go on to reach unimaginable levels of wealth and bring a golden age to the United Kingdom, but even so, these levels of revenue don’t compare to the peak value of the Dutch East India Company.

The VOC

The Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (Anglicised: Dutch East India Company) was a megacorporation set up by the Dutch government by combining multiple rival Dutch charter companies into one mega-company, removing the competition which was stifling profits.

After this merge, the VOC would go on to become the world’s first publicly listed company as it would allow the public to buy stocks and shares in the expeditions it went on. Many refer to this event as the start of Globalisation as we know it, with many modern companies using the VOC’s exact model when managing its structure, birthing the current model of publicly owned companies.

Map of Dutch East India Company trading network. Source: Trasport Geography

The VOC would go on to trade across the world, mainly focusing on the Dutch East Indies and other Dutch holdings across the far east. Batavia and Cape Town were used as the main ports for their operations when moving goods from the East Indies to Europe. At its height, the VOC would reach a value of $7.8 trillion, adjusted for inflation, nearly eight times more than the current value of Apple!

By diversifying, the VOC went on to build an international monopoly, with many relying on their shipbuilding services, transport, and architecture services, building “vertical integration.” With such power, the Dutch were able to influence a lot of the globe politically and economically, giving them much power on the international stage, especially important for a country of its size.

The creation of such charter companies brought about the advent of Globalisation as we know it. Commodities that couldn’t be found in Europe or could be made cheaper in another part of the world would be transported back to Europe, reaping massive profits as stated above, leading to the Dutch economy skyrocketing in value. Dutch ports became the European gateway for exotic materials from the far east.

This power would come in handy as the low countries were in a state of conflict with most of their neighbors in a quest to gain independence during the Eighty Years’ War. The VOC allowed the Dutch to have the economic backing to fight and eventually win such a war.

Conclusion

In an age dominated by such large companies having a look back at history is always important. Many people don’t know the extent of the riches reaped in the age of Colonisation by European powers.

This has been a problem in the age of activism, where many think that the power garnered by companies such as Apple is an example of something that is unique within history. Such articles as “Apple is the first trillion dollar company” have been written without the historical context necessary to put such events in perspective.

There have been multiple companies in history that have passed this $1 trillion milestone, the Dutch East India company isn’t the only example. As this graphic by visualcapitalist.com shows.

Value comparison of history’s biggest companies. Source: visualcapitalist.com

By looking at history, we can fully understand the magnitude of such achievements. Although a big milestone to reach by modern standards, when looking back in time, such achievements start to become less impressive when put into perspective.

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