Walter A. Friedman
Lecturer of Business Administration
Director, Business History Initiative
Walter A. Friedman is Director of the Business History Initiative and Lecturer. He edits Business History Review with Geoff Jones. He specializes in business, labor, and economic history. He is author of Fortune Tellers: The Story of America's First Economic Forecasters (2013) and Birth of a Salesman: The Transformation of Selling in America (2004). He is currently writing a history of large American companies from 1920 to 1980. He was formerly a Newcomen Post-Doctoral Fellow in Business History and a Trustee of the Business History Conference.
The period leading up to the Great Depression witnessed the rise of economic forecasters, pioneers who sought to use the tools of science to predict the future, with the aim of profiting from their forecasts. This book chronicles the lives and careers of the men who defined this first wave of economic fortune tellers, men such as Roger Babson, Irving Fisher, John Moody, C. J. Bullock, and Warren Persons. They competed to sell their distinctive methods of prediction to investors and businesses, and thrived in the boom years that followed World War I. Yet, almost to a man, they failed to predict the devastating crash of 1929. Despite their failures, this first generation of economic forecasters helped to make the prediction of economic trends a central economic activity, and shed light on the mechanics of financial markets by providing a range of statistics and information about individual firms. They also raised questions that are still relevant today. What is science and what is merely guesswork in forecasting? What motivates people to buy forecasts? Does the act of forecasting set in motion unforeseen events that can counteract the forecast made?
Birth of a Salesman
This book chronicles the remarkable metamorphosis of the American salesman from itinerant amateur to trained expert. From the mid-nineteenth century to the eve of World War II, the development of sales management transformed an economy populated by peddlers and canvassers to one driven by professional salesmen and executives. From book agents flogging Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs to John H. Patterson’s famous pyramid strategy at National Cash Register to the determined efforts by Ford and Chevrolet to craft surefire sales pitches for their dealers, selling evolved from an art to a science. "Salesmanship" as a term and a concept arose around the turn of the century, paralleling the new science of mass production. Managers assembled professional forces of neat responsible salesmen who were presented as hardworking pillars of society, no longer the butt of endless "traveling salesmen" jokes. People became prospects; their homes became territories. As an NCR representative said, the modern salesman "let the light of reason into dark places." The study of selling itself became an industry, producing academic disciplines devoted to marketing, consumer behavior, and industrial psychology. At Carnegie Mellon’s Bureau of Salesmanship Research, Walter Dill Scott studied the characteristics of successful salesmen and ways to motivate consumers to buy.