If you're looking for financially secure companies, there's no better indicator than a long history of paying dividends to shareholders. And despite all the turmoil that the markets have seen over the past couple of years, several companies have managed to keep long-standing streaks of rising dividend payments intact.

Bucking the trend
Last year was a terrible one for dividend investors. Many stocks with long histories of paying significant dividends to shareholders had to break those streaks in light of the financial crisis. General Electric (NYSE:GE) cut its dividend for the first time in decades, and many financial stocks, including Citigroup (NYSE:C) and Bank of America, either completely eliminated dividend payments or cut them to a token amount.

Amid the wreckage of 2008's bear market, though, several solid stocks managed not only to maintain their dividends but also to lengthen their track record of annual increases. Just take a look at some of the companies with the longest current streaks of raising their dividend payments every year:

Stock

Current Dividend Yield

Streak of Annual Dividend Increases

Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG)

2.8%

53 years

Emerson Electric (NYSE:EMR)

2.8%

53 years

3M (NYSE:MMM)

2.6%

51 years

Diebold (NYSE:DBD)

3.7%

57 years

Dover (NYSE:DOV)

2.3%

54 years

Source: Yahoo! Finance, Drip Investing Resource Center.

Just think about everything that these companies have gone through since starting their streaks. After a booming market in the 1960s, these businesses all endured the oil shock and inflationary periods during the 1970s. They made it through a number of recessions, including the stagflationary slowdown in the early 1980s and the technology bust from 2000 to 2002. They've seen what used to be localized economies turn global and have adapted to extreme changes in their respective industries and how they do business.

Through it all, they've maintained one commitment to investors: They've kept the dividends coming. For some shareholders, that kind of dedication is exactly what they've needed.

Dealing with hiccups
Now as valuable as dividend stocks are, you shouldn't get the idea that it's been a smooth ride for investors every step of the way. Although the companies with long dividend streaks have seen their shares appreciate considerably over the years, shareholders have had to endure considerable bumps along the way in order to get their full share of profits.

As an example, take a look at the haircut that investors took on these stocks during 2008:

Stock

2008 Return

Procter & Gamble

(13.7%)

Emerson Electric

(33.2%)

3M

(29.4%)

Diebold

0.4%

Dover

(26.6%)

If you're thinking that Diebold was spared from the carnage, think again -- its big loss came a year earlier, as the stock dropped 36% in 2007.

Note, though, that as big as those losses were, they were less than the S&P 500's 37% drop. That suggests that at some level, investors recognize that these businesses have survived through tough times before and therefore have a better than average chance of making it through any future economic troubles.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the fact that these high-quality stocks occasionally run into big share price declines is good news for investors who want to take advantage of attractive valuations for long-term investments. If you believe that the core businesses of these companies are intact -- and there's little reason to think any of these stocks is in danger of losing its edge -- then price dips are exactly when you want to buy in cheaply.

Going for the century mark
So given their great past track record, will these companies manage to extend their current streaks to make the 100-year mark? Obviously, a lot can happen in 50 years, as we've already seen with these stocks. And certainly, other promising stocks with long histories of increasing dividends have fallen short during tough times.

Yet given all the challenges that these companies have successfully dealt with, there's every reason to believe that they can handle any future difficulties efficiently and effectively. For those looking for stable stocks with a nice income kicker to boot, you can't really ask for anything more.

Not all companies pay dividends. Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer thinks these three stocks are shortchanging you.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger expects all these stocks to outlive him. He owns shares of General Electric. 3M is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Emerson Electric and Procter & Gamble are Motley Fool Income Investor selections. The Fool owns shares of Procter & Gamble. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool's disclosure policy expects 2060 to be a very good year.