Thursday, January 25, 2024

History of Company Identifiers

As a recent conversation unfolded about the need for a publisher id, I was curious about the history of company identifiers. So, I put the following question to Chatgpt.  Interesting that without prompting the machine cited ISBNs and ISSNs among other relevant examples.

Ask: Write me a 1000 word article on the history of company identification numbers








Title: The Evolution of Company Identification Numbers: A Journey Through Business Registration


In the vast and intricate landscape of business, company identification numbers play a pivotal role in establishing order and transparency. These unique identifiers, assigned to each registered business entity, serve as a cornerstone for regulatory compliance, financial transactions, and overall business operations. The history of company identification numbers is a fascinating journey that mirrors the evolution of business practices and the need for standardized systems. Let's delve into the origins and development of these crucial identifiers.

Early Beginnings:

The concept of assigning unique numbers to identify businesses can be traced back to the early 20th century. As economies grew and industrialization took hold, the need for a more organized approach to business registration became evident. Governments and regulatory bodies recognized the importance of tracking and regulating businesses for taxation, legal, and statistical purposes.

In the United States, for example, the precursor to modern company identification numbers was the Employer Identification Number (EIN) introduced by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in 1936. Initially designed for tax purposes, the EIN provided a unique identifier for businesses and other entities, streamlining the taxation process.

Global Standardization:

As business transactions became more global, the need for standardized identification systems transcended national boundaries. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) recognized this necessity and introduced the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) for books and the International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) for periodicals. While not directly related to company identification, these standards laid the groundwork for a broader understanding of unique identifiers in various domains.

The Birth of the Dun & Bradstreet D-U-N-S Number:

In the 1960s, the business world witnessed a significant development with the introduction of the Data Universal Numbering System (D-U-N-S) by Dun & Bradstreet. This proprietary system assigned a unique nine-digit number to each business entity, facilitating credit reporting and other business-related information. The D-U-N-S Number gained widespread acceptance, becoming a de facto standard for businesses engaging in international trade.

Government Initiatives and Social Security Numbers:

Governments worldwide began recognizing the need for standardized company identification to enhance regulatory oversight. In the United States, the Social Security Number (SSN) initially designed for individuals, started being used by businesses for identification purposes. However, concerns about privacy and security led to the introduction of the EIN as a dedicated identifier for businesses.

The Rise of Digitalization and Legal Entity Identifiers (LEI):

With the advent of the digital age, the business landscape underwent a profound transformation. The need for a more comprehensive and standardized identification system led to the creation of Legal Entity Identifiers (LEI). Introduced after the 2008 financial crisis, LEIs are unique 20-character alphanumeric codes assigned to legal entities engaging in financial transactions. The LEI system aims to provide a universal identifier that enables regulators and businesses to obtain a clear and consistent view of a company's financial transactions.

Modern Company Identification Numbers:

In contemporary business environments, various countries have adopted their own systems for company identification. For instance, the United Kingdom employs the Companies House Registration Number, while the European Union introduced the Value Added Tax Identification Number (VATIN) for businesses engaged in cross-border transactions.

In the United States, the EIN remains a crucial identifier for businesses, particularly for tax-related purposes. Additionally, the Dun & Bradstreet D-U-N-S Number continues to be widely used in the business community, especially in the context of international trade and credit reporting.

Challenges and Future Trends:

While company identification numbers have come a long way, challenges persist. The rise of cyber threats and identity theft has raised concerns about the security of these identifiers. Governments and regulatory bodies are continually exploring ways to enhance the security and efficiency of company identification systems.

Looking ahead, blockchain technology holds promise in revolutionizing the way company identification numbers are managed. The decentralized and secure nature of blockchain could provide a tamper-proof and transparent system for maintaining business records. Some countries and organizations are already exploring blockchain-based solutions to address the evolving needs of business identification.


The history of company identification numbers reflects the dynamic evolution of business practices, regulatory requirements, and technological advancements. From the early days of tax-focused identifiers to the modern era of digitalization and blockchain, these unique numbers have played a crucial role in shaping the business landscape. As we navigate the complexities of the global economy, the continued refinement and innovation in company identification systems will be essential for fostering transparency, accountability, and efficient business operations.

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