Today on May 2, 1670, King Charles II grants a royal charter to form the Hudson’s Bay Company.
The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) is currently the oldest North American corporation still in operations today. The Canadian-based company now operates as an international retail group with an extensive footprint across Canada, United States, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. The founding of HBC dates back to over three centuries ago. King Charles II of England granted his first cousin, Prince Rupert, the rights to establish a fur trading business around the Hudson Bay region. It’s original full name was “The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay.” The “Governor” refers to the chairman and the “Company of Adventurers” refers to stock owners, the ones adventuring or risking their money.
During the 17th Century, the fur trade emerged as a significant commercial opportunity in North America, as Europeans simply loved felt hats. Demand for beaver fur skyrocketed overnight. As a result, Charles granted a Royal Charter to HBC for exclusive trading rights over the rivers and seaways in Hudson Bay. The company gained access to over 1.5 million square miles of land across Northwestern Canada (more than 40% of the country). The fur trade was reliant on the indigenous hunters bringing in a steady supply of animal pelts to trading posts. They often bartered for European manufactured goods such as knives, kettles, guns, needles, and blankets.
During 1700’s, Britain and France fought a series of land and naval battles for control over the fur trade. In 1821, HBC formally merged with its largest competitor, the Montreal-based North West Company. As a result, the company emerged as a dominant player across the entire continent. However, by the late 19th century, fashion trends dramatically changed, forcing the company to rethink its strategy. In 1912, HBC began an aggressive modernization program and opened their ‘original six’ retail department stores across Canada. Today, HBC continues to thrive under several iconic brands such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, Home Outfitters, and Hudson’s Bay.