International traders in London, including those from France, Germany and the Netherlands, the Baltic, Hungary, the Mediterranean and the United States, founded the London Corn Trade Association in 1878 in order to standardize shipping documents for exporting nations and to clarify procedures and disputes relating to the quality of imported grain.
In the same year, SGS was founded in Rouen, France, by Henri Goldstuck, a young Latvian immigrant who, having seen the opportunities at one of the country’s largest ports, began to inspect French grain shipments. With the aid of Captain Maxwell Shafftington, he borrowed money from an Austrian friend to start inspecting the shipments arriving in Rouen as, during transit, losses showed in the volume of grain as a result of shrinkage and theft. The service inspected and verified the quantity and quality of the grain on arrival with the importer.
Business grew rapidly; the two entrepreneurs went into business together in December 1878 and, within a year, had opened offices in Le Havre, Dunkirk and Marseilles.
In 1915, during the First World War, the company moved its headquarters from Paris to Geneva, Switzerland and on July 19, 1919 the company adopted the name Société Générale de Surveillance.
During the mid-20th century, SGS started offering inspection, testing and verification services across a variety of sectors, including industrial, minerals and oil, gas and chemicals, among others. In 1981, the company went public and in 1985 joined the Swiss Market Index.