02 Nov 2018

New Exhibit at Harvard Business School’s Baker Library Tells Tale of Rise and Fall of Lehman Brothers

Baker Library’s Lehman Collection provides unique view of one of America’s longest-running and largest investment banks
Lehman Brothers Headquarters, September 13, 2008.
Courtesy of AP Photo/David Karp

BOSTON—Where were you on Monday, September 15, 2008, when Lehman Brothers, the fourth largest investment bank in the United States and one that traced its roots back to 1850, declared bankruptcy as the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 504 points? These and other cataclysmic events in the financial world led to the perfect storm that resulted in the Great Recession of 2008, putting US and global markets in jeopardy.

2018 marks the tenth anniversary of these events, and today Harvard Business School’s Baker Library opens an extraordinary exhibit from its extensive Lehman Brothers Collection documenting the history of the firm from beginning to end, “Lehman Brothers: A History, 1850-2008.” (Visit the exhibit’s web site to learn more.)

Located in the North Lobby of Baker Library I Bloomberg Center at the center of the Harvard Business School campus in Allston, the exhibit, which will run until July 12, 2019, is open, free of charge, to the general public as well as the Harvard Business School and Harvard University communities. (To help plan your visit, visit this site, which includes a map, directions, and hours of operation).

Thanks to Lehman’s donations of its extensive business records and other materials in 2002 and 2008, “This remarkable collection stands as the primary record of one of the longest running and largest investment firms in the United States,” writes Laura Linard, Senior Director of the Baker Library Special Collections, in her forward to the exhibit’s catalogue.

Through displays of documents and photographs, the exhibit shows the rise and fall of Lehman Brothers, from general merchandisers in Alabama and cotton commodity brokers in New York City (1840s-1880s) to investment bankers and securities underwriters for then-new ventures like Sears, Roebuck & Co. and F. W. Woolworth Co. (1880s-1920s) to investors in “emerging enterprises” such as aviation and the film industry from the 1920s through the 1960s.

After a number of leadership changes, a merger (Lehman Brothers, Kuhn, Loeb & Co.), and a brief buyout by Shearson, the securities division of American Express (leading to the firm name Shearson Lehman/American Express) in the 1960s to 2000s, Lehman, under the name Lehman Brothers Holdings, began to invest heavily in subprime mortgages at the beginning of the 21st century—investments that became toxic and eventually deadly in the years leading up to the weekend of September 13 and 14, 2008, and the firm’s final days.

“This exhibit tells the story of an investment bank that played a major role in the economic development of the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries and the impact of the firm’s collapse,” says Linard. “I cordially invite visitors from both this community and beyond to come to our campus to visit this very special exhibit.”

“The Lehman Collection is an important resource for the study of modern business history, providing researchers and others with a rare opportunity to access twentieth-century corporate records,” Linard adds. “We hope that in highlighting this collection, we can ‘finish the story’ of this landmark American firm. Thus, we continue to eagerly seek materials to fill in the gaps from 2000 to 2008 while we continue to build the entire collection.”


Jim Aisner


From its inception, Baker Library has collected rare and unique materials that focus on the evolution of business and industry. The collections span eight centuries beginning in the late 1300s to the present day and include corporate archives, manuscripts, account ledgers, rare books, broadsides, photographs, films, electronic records, and company annual reports. The HBS Archives are a vital resource as well. These rich and varied collections support research in a remarkably diverse range of fields such as business, economic, social and cultural history as well as the history of science and technology. Baker Library is committed to strengthening our contemporary archives to better understand the important theories, organizations, and individuals that have shaped the global business world today.


Founded in 1908 as part of Harvard University, Harvard Business School is located on a 40-acre campus in Boston. Its faculty of more than 200 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and doctoral degrees, as well as more than 70 open enrollment Executive Education programs and 55 custom programs, and HBX, the School’s digital learning platform. For more than a century, HBS faculty have drawn on their research, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and their passion for teaching to educate leaders who make a difference in the world, shaping the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.