What is the most influential corporation of all time?

And why?

Among those that I would think deserve consideration are

The British East India Company
Standard Oil
American Telephone and Telegraph
International Business Machines

But I don’t think the above can really top the world-changing influence of the Ford Motor Corporation. Henry Ford and the organization he took over in 1903 brought the industrial revolution to the masses, changing the lives of billions in the process. From the pace of our lives brought by the acceleration of the assembly line, to the development of the mass consumerist society (not to mention providing individual widespread mobility to hundreds of millions), Ford created a lifestyle revolution far more potent and longer lasting than anything the Communists planted.

“But Mr. Ford, the modern world demands…”
“Young man, I invented the modern world!”


That’s going to be a tough question to answer considering the numerous variables involved. But, offhand I’d say probably Microsoft…why? Well, that’s fairly obvious, I would think.

In all fairness though, there is no single answer here (IMHO).

GE, AT&T, Exxon, etc.

I’m not sure about it being a corporation or not, but Samuel Colt did his part…wouldn’t ya say. Not to mention the Wright bros.

Influential is a damn hard term to pin down. In terms of direct influence on the way people think I would tend to think MGM or Warner Bros. would get top billing. They, and whatever they have morphed into, have changed the way people think, dress, act and even talk right across the world for the better part of a century.

I would be hesitant to put Ford in there. While Henry adapted mass production to a new product, I don’t think the influence was particularly far reaching outside the US, nor did it seem to last for long. Yes a lot of other US firms, British and European firms, and later Asian firms, followed his lead, but I would argue Ford’s influence stopped with the other corporations he reached.

If this is not the way you wish to define influence then Ford can’t be a winner. Henry didn’t come up with much in the way of original ideas. He took pre-existing production line technology and applied it to something novel. Since this is true then the influence of whatever corporation he copied from must by definition be greater than the influence of Ford, since they influenced Ford and through it everything that Ford influenced. The whole can’t be greater than the sum of the parts.

Microsoft products get a lot of use within the developed world, and the corporations and elite in the third world. But every Microsoft machine also uses Sony CD technology, so Sony gets more use. And more people own CDs than computers, especially in the developing world.

I wouldn’t say Microsoft has much in the way of influence. It has ‘power’ by virtue of economic muscle. But compare M$ to Newscorp, an organisation that most agree can make and break Presidents and Prime Ministers worldwide and MS’s power is fairly paltry. People are certainly less influenced in the way they think and act by MS than they are by Fox.

All in all I would say MS’s influence on the 80%+ of the world’s population that will never use a computer is so close to nil as to make no difference. Its influence on the other 20% is also fairly small. AFAIK MS only influences me in any way at all while I’m using computers, which is fairly limited influence.

Re: MS - one must simply give a nod to IBM, at least in retrospect. MS is simply following the example of the past FUD master.

I think the OP nails it in generality if not necessarily specifics: in the last 100+ years, there were corporations that created (and some would say looted, though I don’t necessarily agree) the modern world that we now know. I don’t know that Ford is the best example, but I don’t know that it’s not.

MS has gained huge wealth in just the last decade or so, but it seems silly to even include it on the list of Most Powerful Ever without much more longevity and influence. MS may be DEC someday.

Perhaps you could include Westinghouse, whose contribution to the rail and electrical industries around the world were pretty influencial.

Coca Cola?


hm. All time?

Dutch East India?

Jamestown Colony Corporation? Either it or Mayflower was a corporation. I forget which.

I was looking at ATT and I gotta tell you, they (and their Bell Labs subsidiary) definitely give Ford a run for it’s money:

  1. The transistor.
  2. The laser.
  3. Satellite communications.
  4. The fax
  5. Cellular telephony
  6. Live television
  7. Radio astronomy
  8. Discovered/confirmed the Big Bang
  9. UNIX, C, C++
  10. Fiber optics

All of these are pretty much restrict to the 10% or so of the world’s population living in the industralized, developed world. The other 90% of the world’s people have probably never even heard of radio astronomy, and are far too busy struggling to get enough food for the day to care at all.

It would take something much more basic to be “most influential corporation of all”.

Here’s a possibility: the University of MN Foundation, which supported Nobel Laurate Norman Borlaug in his development of the new grains of the “green revolution”, which have probably saved a billion people from starving to death. That’s gotta count as “influential”.

Hmmmn. Johnson and Johnson, because without them, we wouldn’t have KY.


Here’s a thought. What was the first corporation? The corporation that showed others that the corporation as a business model was a good idea. It could be that the company that invented the corporation was the most influential.

I don’t know who that was however, and it may have just been a change in the law of a european nation. Anybody know?

Who produced DDT?

Ah, found it. The first corporation was chartered in 1601 by queen Elizabeth I and is one that we have already mentioned: The British East India Company. It gets my vote.

The Roman Catholic Church.

The Church has made money for 1800 years from governments under its control and gullible people. They sold indulgences (permission to sin) and taxed kingdoms under the guise of being the “one true church”.

The Church has made so much money that it has its own bank in Vatican City.


What about the Rand Corporation?


Krupp really has to be a large contender. Prior to WWI they were the largest arms dealer in the world. They supplied virtualy all of the weapons for that war. Virtualy everyone went into WWI thinking they had a technological advantage and could get some land out of it, because none of the countries quite figured out everyone else had all those weapons too. They then supplied most of Germany’s arms for WWII, by that time the allies were a little more suspicious. Part of the treaties at the end of WWII stopped allowing them to make weapons anymore, but I am not sure if that still holds. If you consider how big a part their weapons played in the first half of the 20th century they are, or have been extreemly influential.

I’ve always looked at Ford as someone who advanced the concept of interchangeable parts to include people. Although the assembly line appears to be a time saving form of production it was really the reduction in skill requirements that made it work.

The East Indies Company was probably the most visible company of all time I would think the advances of ATT were more influential to the state of global affairs. Third world countries may not see the technological advances but they are fed by the people who use them.

Microsoft is also a contender. It drives software around the world. The influential aspect of MS is the way it standardizes, and forces new standards to be set, for every function of a computer.

Do you mean ‘influenced the most’ or ‘most capable of influencing to order’? For example, Ford might have changed the world, but that doesn’t mean he could do so again. M$ might be able to armtwist the government, but not leave a lasting impression. (There are just examples, I’m not saying these companies did.)

I think the East India Corp deserves an honorary mention for having an army :slight_smile: (Or can we count the church or the templars?)