27 Jul 2011

New Harvard Business School Exhibit Explores "Railroads and the Transformation of Capitalism"

Displays from Baker Library Historical Collections examine the rise of modern business
Photo: Baker Library Historical Collections

BOSTON—A new exhibit, Railroads and the Transformation of Capitalism, opened yesterday in the north lobby of Baker Library | Bloomberg Center on the Harvard Business School campus in Boston. Organized by the Baker Library Historical Collections, part of the School's Knowledge and Library Services, the exhibit is free and open to the public and HBS community. It will run until Feb. 4, 2012.

Drawing from the vast resources of the Library's Historical Collections, Railroads and the Transformation of Capitalism demonstrates how in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, more than 240,000 miles of railroad track laid down in the United States connected vast regions of the country, transporting raw materials, goods, and people, and making possible an unparalleled level of commerce. The railroad system, unprecedented in its size and complexity, became the model on which modern business would be based.

The exhibit also explores the continuing research in the history and role of railroads in creating a system of modern managerial capitalism that survives to this day. "The rise of modern American capitalism, enabled by the expansion of the railroad, was one of the transformative developments of the nineteenth century – one that historians refer to as the second industrial revolution," said Melissa Banta, guest curator of the exhibit.

Recent scholarship has also compared European and American railroads and revealed how the relationship between the railroads and the state influenced railroad development. Other scholars have questioned the idea that American railroads were models of management and suggest they are better understood as sometimes inefficient and lumbering organizations that achieved scale only through massive subsidies.

In a series of displays of historical materials, Railroads and the Transformation of Capitalism focuses on the pre–industrial era in early nineteenth-century America; the development of U.S. railroads as the country's first big business; the nature of the British, French, and German rail systems; the means for raising the immense amount of capital needed for railroad construction and operations; and the development of the managerial principles of the modern corporation. In addition, it examines the rise of reliable accounting, analysis, and information systems; the creation of mass production, distribution, and communication; and the growth, from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, of big businesses such as American Telephone & Telegraph, General Electric, and Standard Oil.

Visit www.library.hbs.edu/hc/railroads/ to learn more about railroads and capitalism and to view some of the items featured in the exhibit.

Contact the Baker Library Historical Collections (histcollref@hbs.edu) to request a copy of the exhibit's catalogue.

Exhibit Hours:

July and August, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

September through February 4, Monday -Thursday 7 a.m.-7 p.m.,
Friday 7 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m.- 7 p.m.

Closed September 5, October 10, November 24-25, December 23-30, January 1, and January 16


Laura Linard, Baker Library Collections, 617-495-6360 (llinard@hbs.edu)

Jim Aisner, HBS Marketing & Communications, 617-495-6157 (jaisner@hbs.edu)

About Baker Library Historical Collections
Baker Library Historical Collections (www.library.hbs.edu/hc/) is a rich resource for scholarship in business and economic history and cross-disciplinary studies. Thousands of items - including business records, diaries and correspondence, research papers, rare books, ephemera, and visual materials - provide the documentary evidence that allows scholars to investigate firsthand the important business theories, organizations, movements, and individuals that have shaped our nation's history and globally influenced progress and developments today.

About Harvard Business School

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 250 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and PhD degrees, as well as more than 175 Executive Education programs, and Harvard Business School Online, the School’s digital learning platform. For more than a century, 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. The School and its curriculum attract the boldest thinkers and the most collaborative learners who will go on to shape the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.