Business History

Business History is a featured research topic and an initiative at Harvard Business School.
Harvard Business School has a long tradition of investing in business history, and of asserting its central role in management education. In 1927, the School created the first endowed professorship in the field. It also founded the field’s first journal, the Business History Review. Since the work of Joseph Schumpeter at Harvard's Center for Entrepreneurial History in the 1940s, the School has taken an interdisciplinary and global approach to understanding business history. Today business historians at the School investigate a broad range of themes, including entrepreneurship, innovation, globalization, and environmental sustainability.
  1. George Washington and the Foundations of American Democracy

    Tom Nicholas and Matthew G. Preble

    George Washington is perhaps the most well-known of the U.S.'s founding fathers because of his political and military achievements. However, Washington also operated a number of successful business ventures out of his Mount Vernon estate, and he became a landowner on the American frontier. Washington's life and career serve as a lens for understanding the development of the early American economy. Washington was entrepreneurial both economically and politically. He played a central role in helping to structure the new country's national government and developed a number of precedents as the country's first executive.

    Keywords: government; history; leadership; entrepreneurship; George Washington; democracy; Decision Making; Entrepreneurship; Government and Politics; Business History; Leadership; United States;


    Nicholas, Tom, and Matthew G. Preble. "George Washington and the Foundations of American Democracy." Harvard Business School Case 816-019, August 2015. (Revised February 2016.) View Details
  2. Markets with Price Coherence

    Benjamin Edelman and Julian Wright

    In markets with price coherence, the purchase of a given good via an intermediary is constrained to occur at the same price as a purchase of that same good directly from the seller (or through another competing intermediary). We examine ten markets with price coherence, including their origin and outcomes as well as concerns and policy interventions.

    Keywords: intermediaries; platforms; Two-Sided Markets; vertical restraints; Price; Distribution Channels; Business History; Financial Services Industry; Travel Industry; Insurance Industry; Real Estate Industry; Advertising Industry;


    Edelman, Benjamin, and Julian Wright. "Markets with Price Coherence." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 15-061, January 2015. (Revised March 2015.) View Details
  3. John D. Rockefeller: The Richest Man in the World

    Tom Nicholas and Vasiliki Fouka

    By the late nineteenth century scale and managerial hierarchies had extended to several major industrial sectors of the U.S. economy. Although the precise mechanisms often varied, this process mainly involved horizontal integration, some form of legal or administrative centralization followed by vertical integration. Standard Oil represents the canonical example of this development. Standard Oil's history is also fully intertwined with the life and career of John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937), one of the most remarkable individuals to define the landscape of American business. Rockefeller's estimated $1.4 billion net worth in 1937 was equivalent to 1.5% of U.S. GDP. According to this metric he was (and still is) the richest individual in American business and economic history.

    Keywords: Horizontal Integration; Wealth; Business History; Vertical Integration; Consolidation; Personal Development and Career; Energy Industry; United States;


    Nicholas, Tom, and Vasiliki Fouka. "John D. Rockefeller: The Richest Man in the World." Harvard Business School Case 815-088, December 2014. View Details
  4. Doing Business in Morocco

    Jill Avery, Tonia Junker and Daniela Beyersdorfer

    This case examines the challenges and opportunities of doing business in Morocco. It highlights Morocco's ongoing economic transformation in the decades leading up to 2014 in the context of its historical, political, and cultural background. The case summarizes some of the main obstacles faced by businesses operating in the country—changing regulations and insufficient access to credit, infrastructure and talent constraints, and a large informal sector—contrasting these with the benefits of operating in a market that provides access to the African continent and proximity to Europe, has relatively low labor costs, and has created a series of investment incentives. Some of these challenges are illustrated through the discussion of an investment decision by French car maker Renault, which opened a new manufacturing facility in Morocco's free trade zone near Tangier. Now a few years into operating the facility, the case zooms in on some of the obstacles that Renault encountered, such as scarcity of trained staff and of local suppliers, and on the progress that was made, in order to evaluate the potential of the investment going forward.

    Keywords: emerging market; emerging economies; Africa; business history; strategy; global strategy; operations management; Development Economics; Geographic Scope; Globalization; Business History; Emerging Markets; Market Entry and Exit; Operations; Strategy; Auto Industry; Africa; Morocco;


    Avery, Jill, Tonia Junker, and Daniela Beyersdorfer. "Doing Business in Morocco." Harvard Business School Case 315-007, September 2014. (Revised September 2015.) View Details
  5. RCA: Color Television and the Department of Justice (A)

    Willy C. Shih and Gregory Dieterich

    This case examines the early history of the color television receiver market, and the global consequences of an historic 1958 consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice that opened RCA's patents to licensing by domestic competitors royalty-free. This externality had a dramatic impact on the long-term health of the U.S. consumer electronics industry. The associated (B) case is 614-073.

    Keywords: Intellectual Property; Patents; Rights; Business Strategy; Competitive Strategy; Corporate Strategy; Business History; Technology; Hardware; Communications Industry; Media and Broadcasting Industry; Electronics Industry; United States; Japan;


    Shih, Willy C., and Gregory Dieterich. "RCA: Color Television and the Department of Justice (A)." Harvard Business School Case 614-072, May 2014. View Details
  6. Samuel Slater & Francis Cabot Lowell: The Factory System in U.S. Cotton Manufacturing

    Tom Nicholas and Matthew Guilford

    At the time of the American War of Independence (1776-1783) and for several decades after it, Great Britain dominated the global production of cotton textiles. In fact, Britain became so dominant in textile manufacturing and trading that Manchester, its industrial capital, was nicknamed "Cottonopolis." By contrast, American manufacturing of export-oriented or even tradable-quality cotton textiles was practically nonexistent. This position of relative American backwardness changed with the influence of two prominent individuals: Samuel Slater (1768-1835) and Francis Cabot Lowell (1775-1817). Slater, a skilled British textile machinery engineer helped to develop the country's first cotton spinning mill. Lowell, a member of a prominent New England mercantile family, established the first integrated cotton spinning and weaving facility in what became the city of Lowell, Massachusetts. Together Slater and Lowell brought the sophistication of British industrial revolution technology and introduced innovative methods of factory production to the United States.

    Keywords: Technological Innovation; Production; Business History; Manufacturing Industry; Great Britain; Massachusetts;


    Nicholas, Tom, and Matthew Guilford. "Samuel Slater & Francis Cabot Lowell: The Factory System in U.S. Cotton Manufacturing." Harvard Business School Case 814-065, January 2014. View Details
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