Corporate charters database

The Corporate Charters database contains records for nearly 10,000 corporations chartered by special act in the U.S., France, and the Germanies between 1825 and 1865/70 and under general incorporation laws in Britain from 1844 to 1865. Also included are tables of

  • German breweries in existence in 1901/02
  • British railroads in existence in 1900
  • individual shareholders (presently French shareholders only, in selected years between 1825-1867)

For further information, click the tabs above. Once the database is available for searching, the following information will be added::

  • Charters Field Guide—Field-by-field description of the contents of the charters table
  • Shareholders Field Guide—Field-by-field description of the contents of the shareholder lists table
  • Sources—A key to the sources from which the data were drawn

Short-Form Records (S)

These abbreviated records give, at a minimum, the company name, date and year of incorporation, and line of business. Depending on the source of the information, further details may be included. For Britain, France, and the Germanies, the short-form records are not based on actual charters, so the information in some cases is quite limited. For the U.S., most of the short-form records are derived from full charters. In addition to the minimum data, these records give certain information about the corporation's initial capital and the minimum capital required to organize the company.

Long-Form Records (L)

These records are based on published corporate charters (for the U.S., France, and the Germanies) or on articles of association (from the Public Record Office for Britain). All the relevant information that is available in these documents has been entered.

Partial Records (P)

These records will become long-form records but are currently incomplete.

Second Records (2)

These records give subsequent company names and refer the browser to the company's main record for details.

Mutual companies(2)

[add note about mutual companies]

Summary of records by country
  Short Form Long Form Partial record Total

[double-check current #s]

France (Total = 560)

Short-form records (376): all companies incorporated in France from 1825 through 1867, when general incorporation began.

Long-form and partial records (131 + 53): all companies chartered from 1825 to 1835 and 7 of 14 companies from 1836 as well as in 1845, 1855, 1865.

German States (656)

Short-form records (446): [describe coverage of countries by year]

Long-form records (210): consult this chart.

United Kingdom (4,502)

Short-form records (4,415): These are based on the various "returns" published in the British Parliamentary Papers after the first general-incorporation law in 1844 and on a few published sources. We have not been able to find systematic information on companies chartered by special act before 1844. [double-check this, e.g., in Pearson et al.]

Long-form and partial records (87): The aim is to do a 5% sample of the total (or 228). The long-form records and partial records that have been completed to date are for the years indicated in the table below.

Year No. Year No.
1845 8 1855 7
1846 2 1856 3
1847 2 1857 3
1850 3 1858 2
1851 1 1859 3
1852 1 1860 14
1853 1 1865 35
1854 1 1870 1

United States (4,236)

Short-form records (2,684): All companies incorporated by special charter in all states and territories in 1825, 1845, 1855, and 1865.

Long-form and partial records (1,550 + 2): All companies incorporated by special charter in seven states—Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, and Virginia—from 1825 through 1835 and in 1855, and for all companies incorporated in all states and territories in 1835.

Note: The term "special charter" refers to a specific piece of state legislation setting the terms of incorporation for a specific company. ("General incorporation" laws, in contrast, spelled out an administrative process by which companies could incorporate themselves; all companies incorporated under a general incorporation law were subject to the same charter provisions.) The state legislative sessions did not necessarily run on a calendar-year basis, nor were they all held annually. If a session began and ended in different years, we did not record data for all charters passed during that session, but only for those charters passed in the target calendar year. If a legislature did not meet on an annual basis, we collected data either from the legislative session that included a portion of a target year (first choice) or from the legislative session immediately prior to the target year. Example: A legislature met biennially during the 1850s. If the sessions began at the end of one year and ran through the early part of the next year (e.g., 1854-55 and 1856-57), we collected data from the session that included part of 1855 (in this case, 1854-55). If the legislature met only every other even-numbered year -- thus, not in our target year 1855 -- we collected data from the session held in the preceding year (1854). [explain treatment of territories]

Deficiencies in Coverage: The coverage of charters in this database may be deficient in two ways. First, we did not enter any data from some of the targeted legislative sessions (as indicated in the tables above) either because we could not obtain a copy of the volume or because we ran out of time (i.e., funding). Second, we may have overlooked the occasional business charter in a given volume. To find individual charters, we paged through the volumes looking at titles and margin notes for incorporating acts. After we entered data, we checked the list of entered charters against the index to the volume of laws. Some charters were embedded in general legislation, the title of which did not indicate that the statute also incorporated companies. Some statutes also had misleading titles that hid the fact that the statute incorporated a business. Finally, many volumes did not have indexes against which we could check coverage. Nevertheless, we are confident that we found almost all, if not all, of the business charters for the years we examined.

Lines of Business - Master List

The companies in the Corporate Charters database are classified in the following broad categories. Each record also includes a more detailed classification. For a detailed Master List of the lines of business included in the database, click here.