07 Jul 2015

Harvard Business School Historian Wins Best Book Prize

Walter Friedman recognized for his work on the lives of economic forecasters before Crash of 1929
Walter Friedman

BOSTON—Walter A. Friedman, Lecturer of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, director of its Business History Initiative, and coeditor of Business History Review, has won the 2015 Hagley Prize in Business History for his book Fortune Tellers: The Story of America’s First Economic Forecasters (Princeton University Press, 2013).

Established and funded by the Hagley Museum and Library of Wilmington, Delaware, one of the nation’s most significant research libraries dedicated to the history of business, since 1999 the prize has annually honored “the best book in business history (broadly defined).” The prize, including a medallion and $2,500, was presented on June 27 in Miami at the annual meeting of the Business History Conference, a scholarly organization devoted to encouraging all aspects of research, writing, and teaching about business history and the environment in which business operates.

The late Thomas K. McCraw, the School’s School’s Isidor Straus Professor of Business History Emeritus at the time of his death in 2012, received the prize in 2008 for Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction (Harvard University Press, 2007).

Fortune Tellers chronicles the lives and careers of pioneering economic forecasters in the period leading up to the Great Depression, including Roger Babson, Irving Fisher, John Moody, C. J. Bullock, and Warren Persons. Using the tools of science to predict the future and profit from their forecasts, they competed to sell their predictions to investors and businesses in the boom years in the U.S. economy after World War I. Yet for all intents and purposes they failed to predict the Crash of 1929. Nevertheless, this first generation of economic forecasters helped to make the prediction of economic trends a central economic activity, and they shed light on the mechanics of financial markets by providing a range of statistics and information about individual firms.

Friedman is also the author of Birth of a Salesman: The Transformation of Selling in America (Harvard University Press, 2004). He is currently writing a history of American business from 1945 to 1980.


Jim Aisner

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.