Logótipo da Pan Am entre 1928 e 1944
Jardine, Matheson & Co. was formed by William Jardine (1784-1843) and James Matheson (1798-1878) on 1 July 1832, following the restructuring of the China firm Magniac & Co. The new company was the first to send private shipments of tea to England when the East India Company's trade monopoly with China ended in 1834. It was based initially at Canton, but was forced to move its main office to Macao in May 1839, in response to the activities of the Chinese authorities. Jardine retired during 1839, leaving Matheson in charge of the company's operations until 1842, when he also returned to England.
The company promoted the founding of Hong Kong during the 1830s. It purchased the first plot of land there in 1841, and transferred its main office from Macao to the new colony in 1844. Over the course of the next decade, the firm opened new offices, and began to handle a wide range of imports into China, such as coal, metals and machinery. The company inaugurated the steam cargo line from Calcutta to China in 1855, and opened offices in Yokohama, Kobe, Nagasaki and other ports from 1859 onwards.
In its early years, the firm was heavily involved in the opium trade. By the 1860s, however, the company's share of the trade was decreasing, and by 1872 its involvement had virtually ceased. This period saw the firm begin to engage in service operations alongside imports and exports. It expanded its banking and insurance interests, and also undertook infrastructure projects in Hong Kong, including the establishment of the first inter-office telegraph in 1869. By 1865 the firm had expanded to 20 shore offices and agencies in the Far East, Great Britain and the United States.
In 1871 the company withdrew from the 'Country Trade' with India to concentrate on its other interests. It pioneered sugar-refining in Hong Kong with the formation of the China Sugar Refinery Company, and entered the railway industry with the building of the first railway from Shanghai to Wuhan in 1876. By the 1880s, its interests in China extended to wharves, warehouses, cotton mills, mining and engineering. This period saw the founding of the Indo-China Steam Navigation Company (1882); Hongkong Land (1889), which became the firm's main property development arm; and the Jardine Spinning and Weaving Company (1897). The company's involvement in China's railways continued with the establishment of the British and Chinese Corporation in 1898. The following year, it was handed responsibility for completing the line from Tientsin to Mukden and Newchwang, and further rail contracts followed.
Jardine, Matheson & Co. became a limited company in 1906. By this time, the heart of the firm's business was in Shanghai, and the head office was based officially in the city from 1912. The first decades of the twentieth century witnessed a further expansion of the firm's operations. In 1921 it amalgamated its Chinese cotton mills to form the Ewo Cotton Mills. Two years later, it established the Jardine Engineering Company, which introduced fluorescent strip-lighting into Hong Kong in 1940. The outbreak of war with Japan in 1941 forced the firm to relocate its main office to London, but it was one of the first companies to resume business in China and Hong Kong once the conflict ended, and it returned to Japan in 1947.