The Russian government chartered the first company, a whaling and fishing enterprise, in 1704. Although Peter I encouraged the formation of trading companies based on the European model, early Russian companies engaged primarily in fishing, textile production, or mining. The Russian-American Company, formed in 1799, expired in 1868, a year after the United States purchased Alaska.
Limited liability, crucial to corporate enterprise, received legislative sanction in 1805 and 1807. A law promulgated on December 6, 1836, defined the general characteristics and functions of corporations. Each corporate charter (ustav ) took the form of a law published in the Complete Collection of Laws or its supplement from 1863 onward, the Collection of Statutes and Decrees of the Government. The government occasionally considered replacing the concessionary system with one permitting incorporation by registration, but it never implemented this reform.
Bureaucratic regimentation and tutelage kept the number of corporations relatively low: 68 in 1847, 186 in 1869, 433 in 1874, 614 in 1892, 1,354 in 1905, and 2,167, plus 262 foreign companies, in 1914 (Owen). Another 1,239 companies were founded between 1914 and 1916. In November 1917, 2,727 Russian and 232 foreign corporations were in operation. Banks, railroads, steamship lines, mines, and machine plants generally maintained their corporate headquarters in major cities, so that, despite the introduction of modern technology by large corporations in the half-century before World War I, most of the population of the Russian Empire considered the corporation an alien form of economic enterprise.
See also: capitalism; guilds
Thomas C. Owen