Dividends have been around nearly as long as the stock market itself. The oldest dividend stock in the United States paid its first dividend before the Revolutionary War was fought. That honor goes to Lorillard, a tobacco company, which paid its first dividend in 1760. There are plenty of other companies across many industries that have been paying dividends for close to or over a century. Here are some more examples of companies with lengthy dividend track records.
Industrial companies, both familiar and obscure, have some of the longest dividend histories among U.S. companies. For example, DuPont, a member of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, paid its first dividend in 1802. Valspar, the paint maker, paid its first dividend in 1806. General Electric, one of the original members of the Dow, has a paid a dividend every quarter for over a century.
The consumer staples sector is another group rich in long-term dividend stocks, some of which are among the most familiar names in the United States. Companies such as P&G and General Mills not only have been paying dividends for over a century, but they also have been steadily increased payouts over several decades. General Mills has a paid dividend for over 114 years. Colgate-Palmolive paid its first dividend in 1806.
If there is a sector that is even more boring and lower beta than consumer staples it is utilities. The upside here is that boring can be beautiful when it comes to dividends. Interestingly, only a small amount of U.S. stocks (less than 20) have dividend increase streaks of 50 years or more, but two are utilities stocks.
One of those is American States Water. Another is the answer to "What stock has the longest uninterrupted dividend streak?" York Water has paid a dividend without interruption since 1816.
Since banks are some of the oldest companies in the United States, it stands to reason that there are some pretty old dividend payers in this sector as well. Once upon a time, it was fair to call the financial services sector a dividend mecca. The global financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 changed that. Investors looking for old, dependable bank dividends should focus on sleepy, community and small regional banks. Among large banks, Bank of New York, now Bank of New York Melllon, has a dividend history dating back to 1784. Citigroup's dividend legacy goes back to 1812, but both banks cut their payouts during the financial crisis.
Todd Shriber is a financial writer who started covering financial markets in 2000. He worked for three years with Bloomberg News and specializes in analysis of stocks, sectors and exchange-traded funds. Shriber has a Bachelor of Science in broadcast journalism from Texas Christian University.