Dutch East India Company

The United East India Company (Dutch: Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, the VOC) was a chartered company established on the 20th March 1602[2] by the States General of the Netherlands amalgamating existing companies into the first joint-stock company in the world,[3][4] granting it a 21-year monopoly to carry out trade activities in Asia.[5] Shares in the company could be bought by any resident of the United Provinces and then subsequently bought and sold in open-air secondary markets (one of which became the Amsterdam Stock Exchange).[6] It is sometimes considered to have been the first multinational corporation.[7] It was a powerful company, possessing quasi-governmental powers, including the ability to wage war, imprison and execute convicts,[8] negotiate treaties, strike its own coins, and establish colonies.[9] They are also known for their international slave trade.

United East India Company[lower-alpha 1]
Native name
  • Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie
  • Generale Vereenichde Geoctrooieerde Compagnie (original name)
  • Verenigde Nederlandsche Geoctroyeerde Oostindische Compagnie (formal name)
Voorcompagnieën/Pre-companies (1594–1602)[lower-alpha 2]
Founded20 March 1602 (1602-03-20),[1] by a government-directed consolidation of the voorcompagnieën/pre-companies
FounderJohan van Oldenbarnevelt and the States-General
Defunct31 December 1799 (1799-12-31)
FateDissolved and nationalised as Dutch East Indies
Area served
Key people
ProductsSpices, silk, porcelain, metals, livestock, tea, grain, rice, soybeans, sugarcane, wine, coffee
The "United East India Company", or "United East Indies Company" (also known by the abbreviation "VOC" in Dutch) was the brainchild of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, the leading statesman of the Dutch Republic.
Amsterdam VOC headquarters
Replica of the VOC ship Duyfken under sail

Statistically, the VOC eclipsed all of its rivals in the Asia trade. Between 1602 and 1796 the VOC sent almost a million Europeans to work in the Asia trade on 4,785 ships, and netted for their efforts more than 2.5 million tons of Asian trade goods. By contrast, the rest of Europe combined sent only 882,412 people from 1500 to 1795, and the fleet of the English (later British) East India Company, the VOC's nearest competitor, was a distant second to its total traffic with 2,690 ships and a mere one-fifth the tonnage of goods carried by the VOC. The VOC enjoyed huge profits from its spice monopoly through most of the 17th century.[10]

Having been set up in 1602 to profit from the Malukan spice trade, the VOC established a capital in the port city of Jayakarta in 1609 and changed the city name into Batavia (now Jakarta). Over the next two centuries the company acquired additional ports as trading bases and safeguarded their interests by taking over surrounding territory.[11] It remained an important trading concern and paid an 18% annual dividend for almost 200 years.

Weighed down by smuggling, corruption and growing administrative costs in the late 18th century, the company went bankrupt and was formally dissolved in 1799. Its possessions and debt were taken over by the government of the Dutch Batavian Republic. The former territories owned by the VOC went on to become the Dutch East Indies and were expanded over the course of the 19th century to include the entirety of the Indonesian archipelago. In the 20th century, these islands would form the Republic of Indonesia.

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