Business history

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Business history is the branch of economic history that deals with the history of business organizations, methods, entrepreneurship, leadership, corporate organization, government regulation, labor relations, and impact on society. It also includes biographies of individual companies and entrepreneurs.


Business history was founded by Professor N. S. B. Gras, at the Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration, starting in 1927. He defined the field's subject matter and approach, wrote the first general treatise in the field, and helped Harvard build a tradition of scholarship as well as the leading library in the field. He edited a series of monographs, the Harvard Studies in Business History. He also served as editor of the Bulletin of the Business Historical Society (1926- 1953), a journal which later became the Business History Review (1954-date).

Scholars such as Gras and Allan Nevins helped refute the false "Robber Baron" image created by anti-capitalist writers who thought big business was bad because it hurt workers, consumers and democracy.


Business history in the U.S. in the 1960s differed from earlier decades in the sheer volume produced and in the variety of methodologies used. Scholars were also more interested in developing abstract or theoretical explanations of the growth of business enterprise, the study of strategy and structure by Chandler being a prime example. The relationship between business and the federal government became a focal point of study. On the whole, the 1960s affirmed the conclusions of the earlier decades regarding the close interrelationship between government and business enterprise.

Lamoreaux et al. (2003) offers a new synthesis of American business history during the 19th-20th centuries. Moving beyond the markets-versus-hierarchies framework that underlies the previously dominant interpretation of Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., the authors highlight the great variety of coordination mechanizations in use in the economy at any given time. Drawing on late-20th century theoretical work in economics, they show how the relative advantages and disadvantages of these different mechanisms have shifted in complex and often unpredictable ways as a result of changing economic circumstances. One advantage of this perspective is that it avoids the teleology that has characterized so much writing in the field. As a result, the authors can situate the "New Economy" of the late 20th century in broad historical context without succumbing to the temptation to view it as a climactic stage in the process of economic development. They thus provide a particularly persuasive example of the importance of business history to the understanding of national and international history.[1]


American historians working in French business history discovered that most of the business enterprises in France were family-owned, small in scale, and managed conservatively. By contrast, French business historians emphasized the success of national economic planning since the end of World War II and tried to make it clear that the economic development in this period stemmed from various phenomena of the late 19th century: the corporation system, the joint-stock deposit and investment banks, and the technological innovations in the steel industry. To clarify the contributions of 19th century entrepreneurs to the economic development in France, French scholars support two journals, Histoire des Enterprises and Revue d'Histoire de la Siderurgie.


Some of the leading scholars include:


See also


Textbooks and surveys: USA

  • Blackford, Mansel G. . A History of Small Business in America (ISBN 0805798242) (1992)
  • Blackford, Mansel G., and K. Austin Kerr. Business Enterprise in American History (ISBN 0395351553) (1990)
  • Bryant, Keith L. A History of American Business (1983) (ISBN 0133892476)
  • Chamberlain, John. Enterprising Americans: A Business History of the United States (ISBN 0060107022) (1974) by popular journalist
  • Chandler, Jr., Alfred D. The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business (1977), highly influential study
  • Chandler, Jr., Alfred D. Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the Industrial Enterprise (1962) online edition
  • Chandler, Jr., Alfred D. Scale and Scope: The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism (1990).
  • Chandler, Jr., Alfred D. "The Competitive Performance of U.S. Industrial Enterprises since the Second World War," Business History Review 68 (Spring 1994): 1–72.
  • Chandler, Alfred D., Jr. and James W. Cortada. A Nation Transformed by Information: How Information Has Shaped the United States from Colonial Times to the Present (2000) online edition
  • Cochran, Thomas Childs. Business in American Life: A History (1976) online edition
  • Dibacco, Thomas V. Made in the U.S.A.: The History of American Business (1988) (ISBN 0060914661)
  • Friedman, Walter A. and Tedlow, Richard S. "Statistical Portraits of American Business Elites: a Review Essay." Business History 2003 45(4): 89-113. Issn: 0007-6791
  • Groner, Alex. The American heritage history of American business & industry, (ISBN 0070011567) (1972), very well illustrated
  • Krooss, Herman Edward. American Business History (ISBN 0130240834) (1972)
  • Lamoreaux, Naomi R.; Raff, Daniel M. G.; and Temin, Peter. "Beyond Markets and Hierarchies: Toward a New Synthesis of American Business History." American Historical Review 2003 108(2): 404-433. Issn: 0002-8762 Fulltext: History Cooperative and Ebsco
  • Lamoreaux, Naomi R., and Daniel M. G. Raff, eds. Coordination and Information: Historical Perspectives on the Organization of Enterprise (1995)
  • McCraw, Thomas K. American Business, 1920-2000: How It Worked.2000. 270 pp. ISBN 0-88295-985-9.
  • Porter, Glenn. The rise of big business, 1860-1910 (1973)(ISBN 0690703945)
  • Schweikart, Larry. The Entrepreneurial Adventure: A History of Business in the United States (2000)
  • Temin, Peter, ed. Inside the Business Enterprise: Historical Perspectives on the Transformation and Use of Information (1992)
  • Walker, Juliet E. K. Encyclopedia of African American Business History Greenwood Press, 1999 online edition
  • Whitten, David O. The Emergence of Giant Enterprise, 1860-1914: American Commercial Enterprise and Extractive Industries (1983) online edition

Textbooks and surveys: World

  • Berghahn, Volker R. Quest for Economic Empire: European Strategies of German Big Business in the Twentieth Century 1996 online edition
  • Blackford Mansel G. The Rise of Modern Business in Great Britain, the United States, and Japan (1998)
  • Cassis, Youssef. Big Business: The European Experience in the Twentieth Century Oxford University Press, 1999 online edition
  • Chandler, Alfred D., Jr. Shaping the Industrial Century: The Remarkable Story of the Evolution of the Modern Chemical and Pharmaceutical Industries. (Harvard Studies in Business History, no. 46.) 2005.
  • Chandler, Alfred D., Jr. Scale and Scope: The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism (2004)
  • Chapman, Stanley. Merchant Enterprise In Britain (2003)
  • Church, Roy, and Andrew Godley. The Emergence of Modern Marketing (2003) online edition
  • Dávila, Carlos, Rory Miller, and Garry Mills. Business History in Latin America: The Experience of Seven Countries Liverpool University Press, 1999 online edition
  • Robert Gardella, Jane K. Leonard, Andrea McElderry; Chinese Business History: Interpretive Trends and Priorities for the Future M. E. Sharpe, 1998 online edition
  • Hunt, Edwin S.. and James M. Murray. A History of Business in Medieval Europe, 1200-1550 1999
  • Jones, Geoffrey. The Evolution of International Business: An Introduction (1995)
  • Jones, Geoffrey. Merchants to Multinationals: British Trading Companies in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (2000)
  • Kirby, Maurice W. Business Enterprise in Modern Britain: From the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Century (1994)
  • Klassen, Henry Cornelius. Business History of Alberta 1999
  • Lamoreaux, Naomi R., Daniel Raff, and Peter Temin, eds. Learning by Doing in Organizations, Markets, and Nations (1999).
  • Mokyr, Joel. ed. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History 4 vol (2003)
  • Sabel, Charles F., and Jonathan Zeitlin, eds. World of Possibilities: Flexibility and Mass Production in Western Industrialization, (1997)
  • Sluyterman, Keetie E. Dutch Enterprise in the Twentieth Century: Business Strategies in a Small Open Economy (2005) online edition
  • Tignor, Robert L. "The Business Firm in Africa." Business History Review 2007 81(1): 87-110. Issn: 0007-6805
  • Wilson, John F. British Business History, 1720-1994 (1995)


  • Amatori, Franco, and Geoffrey Jones, eds. Business History Around the World (2003)
  • Galambos, Louis. American Business History. Service Center for Teachers of History. 1967, historiographical pamphlet. online version
  • Gras, N.S.B. and Henrietta M. Larson. Casebook in American Business History (1939), with short biographies, company histories and outlines of the main issues
  • Gras, N. S. B. "Are You Writing a Business History?" Bulletin of the Business Historical Society 1944 18(4): 73-110. detailed guide to writing one; in JSTOR
  • Harvey, Charles. Business History: concepts and measurement (1989)
  • Harvey, Charles, and John Turner. Labour and Business in Modern Britain 1989
  • Honeyman, Katrina. "Doing Business with Gender: Service Industries and British Business History." Business History Review 2007 81(3): 471-493.
  • John, Richard R. "Elaborations, Revisions, Dissents: Alfred D. Chander, Jr.'s, The Visible Hand after Twenty Years," Business History Review 71 (Summer 1997): 151–200.
  • Johnman, Lewis and Murphy, Hugh. "Maritime and Business History in Britain: Past, Present, and Future?" International Journal of Maritime History 2007 19(1): 239-270. Issn: 0843-8714
  • Kirkland, Edward C. "The Robber Barons Revisited," The American Historical Review, Vol. 66, No. 1. (Oct., 1960), pp. 68–73. in JSTOR
  • Klass, Lance, and Susan Kinnell. Corporate America: A Historical Bibliography 1984
  • Klein, Maury. "Coming Full Circle: the Study of Big Business since 1950." Enterprise & Society: the International Journal of Business History 2001 2(3): 425-460. Issn: 1467-2227 Fulltext: OUP
  • Larson, Henrietta M. "Business History: Retrospect and Prospect." Bulletin of the Business Historical Society 1947 21(6): 173-199. in Jstor
  • McCarthy, Dennis M. International Business History: A Contextual and Case Approach (1994)
  • McElderry, Andrea Lee, Jane Kate Leonard, and Robert Gardella. Chinese Business History: Interpretive Trends and Priorities for the Future (1998)
  • Rollings, Neil. "British Business History: a Review of the Periodical Literature for 2005." Business History 2007 49(3): 271-292. Issn: 0007-6791
  • Supple, Barry Emmanuel. Essays in British Business History (1977)
  • Toms, Steven and Wilson, John F. "Scale, Scope and Accountability: Towards a New Paradigm of British Business History." Business History 2003 45(4): 1-23. Issn: 0007-6791
  • Tucker, Kenneth Arthur. Business History: Selected Readings (1977)

Monographs: U.S.

  • Bailyn, Bernard. The New England Merchants in the Seventeenth Century (1955);
  • Cochran, Thomas C. The Pabst Brewing Company: The History of an American Business (1948) online edition
  • Cole, Arthur H. The American Wool Manufacture 2 vol (1926)
  • Dicke, Thomas S. Franchising in America: The Development of a Business Method, 1840-1980 (1992) online edition
  • Doerflinger, Thomas M. A Vigorous Spirit of Enterprise: Merchants and Economic Development in Revolutionary Philadelphia (1986)
  • Scranton, Philip. Proprietary Capitalism: The Textile Manufacture at Philadelphia, 1800–1885 (1983)
  • Scranton, Philip. Figured Tapestry: Production, Markets, and Power in Philadelphia Textiles, 1885–1941 (1989).
  • Tucker, Barbara M. Samuel Slater and the Origins of the American Textile Industry, 1790–1860 (1984)
  • Weare, Walter B. Black Business in the New South: A Social History of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company (1993) online edition
  • Williamson, Harold F. and Arnold R. Daum. The American Petroleum Industry: The Age of Illumination, 1859-1899, (1959); online edition vol 1; vol 2, American Petroleum Industry: the Age of Energy 1899-1959, 1964. The standard history of the oil industry.


  1. Naomi R. Lamoreaux et al, "Beyond Markets and Hierarchies: Toward a New Synthesis of American Business History." American Historical Review 2003 108(2): 404-433.