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Oldest California Business 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 doing business today is Ducommun, Inc. It was founded by Charles Louis Ducommun in 1849, a year before California became a state, when he opened a watch repair shop in Los Angeles during the Gold Rush. Only 29 years old, Ducommun when he first arrived in Los Angeles, he was from Switzerland, and, after living in New York, Alabama and Arkansas, came west like thousands of other “49-ers” to find gold and fortune. Life for Ducommun had not been particularly easy until then. A case of smallpox blinded one eye. His grueling nine-month trip from Arkansas was almost fatal for him and fellow overland party members (including future California Governor John C. Downey) as they barely evaded 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 1,610 in 1850), it was already a gateway for miners headed to the gold fields in the north. However, rather than continue north like so many others, Ducommun chose to remain in Los Angeles. He opened a little watch-repair shop on what was then Commerce Street (near the present-day corner of Main Street and Aliso Street in the Civic Center). He began serving customers among the growing flow of newcomers into and through Los Angeles. As the city grew, he expanded into hardware and general goods and prospered. In 1871, he helped to found Farmers and Merchants Bank, the first bank in Los Angeles, and participated in founding the city’s water board. His clock and meteorological instruments were used to keep the city’s official time and weather data. Every 19th century economic boom that came to Los Angeles added to the success of his business. 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 business to his sons. In 1907, the company was incorporated as Ducommun Hardware Company, engaged in distributing metals from eastern mills. As the country entered World War I in 1914, the company found itself in the armaments industry. By the 1920s, it also supplied the rapidly-growing film industry and, toward the end of the decade, further expanded into the new aviation industry. Ducommun products were part of the aircraft Spirit of St. Louis, flown by Charles Lindbergh on his historic 1927 transatlantic crossing. During World War II, Ducommun Inc. supplied both the aviation and ship-building war industries. After the war’s end, the company became a public-stock corporation and, by 1950, was the largest distributor of metal materials in the Pacific. In the 1960s, as with every new economic wave in Los Angeles in the previous century, Ducommun entered the newly expanding aerospace industry.

The last of Charles Ducommun’s descendants in company management left in 1977, although family members still remain the company’s principal shareholders. By 1981, the company sold off the last of its 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.