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Oldest California Business Was Founded in Los Angeles

Drawing of Ducommon Watch and Jewelry. 1868

Drawing of Ducommun Watch & Jewelry on Commercial Street, 1868. Image from the Security National Bank Collection at the Los Angeles Public Library

The oldest company founded in California and still in business today is Ducommun, Inc. The business was founded in 1849, a year before California became a state, when Charles Louis Ducommun opened a watch repair shop in Los Angeles during the Gold Rush. Only 29 years old when he arrived in Los Angeles, Ducommun was originally from Switzerland, and, after having lived in New York, Alabama and Arkansas, decided to come west like thousands of other “49-ers,” hoping to find gold and his own fortune. Life for Ducommun was not initially good for him until that time. A case of smallpox blinded him in one eye. His arduous nine-month overland trip from Arkansas nearly cost him and fellow party members (including future California Governor John C. Downey) their lives from starvation.

Charles Louis Ducommin, Unknown Date

Charles L. Ducommun, unknown date. Photo from 60 Years in Southern California, 1916, by Harris Newmark.

When Ducommun arrived in Los Angeles (population 1,600), it had already become a gateway for miners headed to the gold fields in the north. Rather than head north like so many others, he decided to remain in Los Angeles and open his little watch-repair shop on what was then Commerce Street (approximately near the present-day corner of Main Street and Aliso Street in the Los Angeles Civic Center). He began serving the increasing flow of newcomers to California and Los Angeles. As the city rapidly grew, he expanded into hardware and general goods and prospered with the city. In 1871, he helped found Farmers and Merchants Bank, the first bank in Los Angeles, and joined in founding the city’s water board. His clock and meteorological instruments were those used to keep official time and weather data for Los Angeles. His business fully participated in every economic boom that came to Los Angeles during the 19th century. Present-day Ducommun Street, running a block south and parallel to the 101 Freeway, between Alameda Street and the L.A. River, is named for him.

C. Ducommin Hardware, 1886

Front of C. Ducommun Hardware, 1886. Photo from the Security National Bank Collection at the Los Angeles Public Library

Ducommun died in 1896, leaving his company to his sons. In 1907, the business was incorporated as Ducommun Hardware Company, engaged in distributing metals from eastern mills. This led the company into the armaments industry when the country entered World War I in 1914. By the 1920s, the company supplied the rapidly-growing film industry and, during the latter part of the decade, joined with the aviation industry, another new, expanding economic sector in Los Angeles. Ducommun products were part of the Spirit of St. Louis that Charles Lindbergh flew for his historic 1927 transatlantic flight. During the World War II, Ducommun Inc. supplied the aviation and ship-building war industries. After the war, the company became a public-stock corporation and, by 1950, became the largest distributor of metal materials in the Pacific. In the 1960s, as with every new economic wave in Los Angeles over the previous century, Ducommun entered the newly expanding aerospace industry.

The last of Charles Ducommun’s descendants left the company’s management in 1977, although family members continued to remain the company’s largest shareholders. By 1981, the company sold off its last metals business to focus on its aerospace/electronics business.

In 2017, Ducommun, Inc., after 168 years in Los Angeles, moved its corporate headquarters from Los Angeles County to Orange County, apparently to ease the commute of some company executives. It continues to operate as a supplier for aerospace, defense and other industries.

Modern Ducommun Facility in Carson, California

Ducommun, Inc. facility located in Carson, California. Photo from Google Maps, Copyright 2018 Google.