Wealth can set you free. Wealth is empowering... Wealth is passed down from generation to generation. You can't get rid of wealth! Rich is some[thing] you can lose with a crazy summer and a drug habit. -- Chris Rock

Whenever I think about long-term investing versus short-term trading, that quote always seems to come to mind. Short term investing and day trading might make you rich, but you aren't going to get wealthy that way. If you want to build that multi-generational wealth, you need to invest in companies that have major competitive advantages that have room to grow for decades to come. 

So we asked three of our contributors to each highlight a stock they see as one investors can hold like a family heirloom and pass on. They picked these three companies: 3M (NYSE:MMM), Visa (NYSE:V), and Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN). Here's why these companies fit the bill. 

Stacks of money.

Image source: Getty Images.

A manufacturing titan with a strong pedigree of innovation

Chuck Saletta (3M): Imagine a world without Post-It Notes, Scotch Tape, Scotch-Brite scrubbers, or ACE bandages. All those products -- and literally tens of thousands more -- are made by the same world-class, heirloom company, 3M.

3M traces its history back to 1902 -- when it started out as a mining company. The mine that started it all actually failed to produce all that much, but it sparked a culture of innovation that continues today. That culture of innovation is what propelled 3M to be the consumer and industrial powerhouse it has become, and it's what provides a reason to believe it'll be around for generations to come.

Its earnings are expected to grow by around 9.3% annualized over the next five or so years. That's a respectable growth rate for a company that has been around for over a century and can claim over $30 billion in revenue. 3M's shares fetch around 21 times the company's expected forward earnings in the market, which is not exactly a screaming bargain. Still, for a strong business with a century of innovation and growth behind it and the opportunity to deliver even more, it's a reasonable price to pay.

While 3M may be worth holding forever, if you do choose to be a shareholder, you'll want to watch for signs of trouble. One such sign would be if its vaunted innovative culture looks like it could be giving way to one of cost cutting and leveraging existing technology. While that can look good for profits in the short run, it could lead to stagnation and open more avenues for competitors and knock-off brands to take share over time.

It really is everywhere you (and others) want to be

Tyler Crowe (Visa): Credit card companies are a great example of a large economic moat, high-return businesses that are perfect heirloom stocks. With little to no credit default risk and a simple per-swipe fee structure, they truly are the gatekeepers of commerce and consistently churn out top-and-bottom line growth. On top of the solid business model, there is one staggering fact that underpins the longer-term investment thesis for credit cards. More than 85% of global customer transactions are still done in cash. Numbers like that present an incredible opportunity for Visa and others as more and more people around the world transition to cashless transactions. 

So often, investors that hear this statistic make the logic leap that all credit card companies are going to grow immensely as more and more societies go cashless. I don't doubt that all of them will likely experience growth from this trend, but thanks to Visa's larger global presence, it has a much better chance at capturing that market. 

I'm basing this thesis on both corporate numbers and some personal experience. If you look at global transaction volumes, Visa has about 50% of global market share and has operations in 200 countries. Contrast that with Visa's two largest competitors, Mastercard (NYSE:MA) and American Express (NYSE:AXP), which both have an approximate 22% market share. This statistic also passes my personal eye test. While Mastercard and American Express can claim that they have coverage in the same amount of geographies, living and traveling outside North America I have observed that Visa consistently is the only card accepted by smaller merchants -- Mastercard and American Express are typically reserved for larger or higher price point businesses. For locals looking to go cashless, Visa's merchant acceptance rate makes it the go-to option that gives it an immense leg up in capturing this secular trend. 

This tech colossus could keep growing for decades

John Rosevear (Amazon.com): Let's get the objections out of the way first. Yes, Amazon is already a huge business, with almost $136 billion in revenue last year. Yes, at about 86 times its expected 2017 earnings, Amazon's valuation is absurd by traditional metrics.

But Amazon isn't a traditional company, and its valuation reflects that. While Amazon seems to be both huge and omnipresent, the truth is that it still has immense growth potential -- and it has both the cash-generation capacity and steady management team it'll need to realize that potential.

Think about how Amazon has already evolved far from its bookseller roots. Its Amazon Web Services platform is already a cloud-computing empire -- and cloud computing is just getting started. Its Alexa virtual-assistant software shows that it's making a powerful push into artificial intelligence. 

Add in its already-dominant-and-still-growing online-retail business, and the "small bets" that CEO Jeff Bezos and his team continue to add, and there's a case that Amazon is still just getting started, 20-plus years into its history.

And it's not going anywhere. It's got tons of cash, fat moats around its core businesses, and a management team with plenty of skin in the game. Long story short, I think Amazon is going to be around -- and growing -- for decades to come. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.