East India Company

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Founded by the Royal Charter of Queen Elizabeth I in 1600, The East India Company was the single most powerful economic force that the world has ever seen.

Based in London, its influence reached out to all continents, and the consequences of its actions, both great and small, are the very fabric of history itself. The Company, for example, created British India, caused the Boston Tea Party, founded Hong Kong and Singapore, employed Captain Kidd to combat piracy, established tea in India, held Napoleon captive on St Helena, and made the fortune of Elihu Yale. Its flag inspired the Stars and Stripes, its shipyards provided the model for St. Petersburg, its administration still forms the basis of Indian bureaucracy, and its corporate structure was the earliest example of a joint stock company.

Initially, however, it made little impression on the Dutch control of the Spice trade and could not establish a lasting outpost in the East Indies in the early years. Yet it succeeded beyond measure in establishing military dominance and a political empire for Britain in the East.

By the early nineteenth century, the East India Company extended across most of India, Burma, Singapore and Hong Kong, and a fifth of the world's population was under its authority. The Company had at various stages defeated China, occupied the Phillipines, and conquered Java. It had solved its cash crisis needed to buy tea, by illicitly exporting Indian-grown opium to China.

It was the largest single commercial enterprise the world had ever seen, with revenues derived not only from trade but also through tax-collecting. Yet as it became the administrative arm of the British Empire, the Company attracted men of selfless zeal Bentinck, Lawrence and Edwardes who saw their work in India as an opportunity to bring an enlightened regime to bear on a country that had suffered under previous conquerors.

When the East India Company finally reverted to the Crown in 1874, the Times reported, "It is just as well to record that it accomplished a work such as in the whole history of the human race no other company ever attempted and as such is ever likely to attempt in the years to come."

see also Hudsons Bay Company