Contributions of Joseph Hardcastle to Accounting Theory

By Romeo, George C.; McKinney, James J. | Accounting Historians Journal, December 2008 | Go to article overview

Contributions of Joseph Hardcastle to Accounting Theory


Romeo, George C., McKinney, James J., Accounting Historians Journal


Abstract: Joseph Hardcastle was one of the foremost authorities on subjects connected with the mathematics of finance and other topics in accounting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As a teacher, author, and leader in the profession, he figured prominently in the elevation of accountancy. Hardcastle is relatively unknown in the literature except for having the distinction of scoring the highest grades on the first CPA exam in New York in 1896. However, he was well respected during his time as one of the premier theorists in accounting and was awarded an honorary degree of Master of Letters by New York University. Because of his prolific writings, his teaching of future accountants, and his interactions with members of the Institute of Accounts, he had a strong impact on the "science of accounts," the dominant accounting theory in the U.S. at the turn of the century.

Joseph Hardcastle, born in England in 1827, is probably best known for being one of only three individuals to pass the first Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam in New York in 1896. Remarkably, he was just four months shy of his seventieth birthday and received the highest score of those that passed the exam [Flesher et al., 1996, p. 17]. However, Hardcastle was a regular contributor to various early journals about accounting in the U.S., and he became one of the foremost authorities of his time on the theory of accounting. Through an analysis of his articles, the goal of this paper is to reconstruct his theories and contributions to accounting thought and history, and to discuss these theories of accounting as related to the "science of accounts" that dominated accounting thought in the late 19th century U.S.

This paper is organized as follows. After the introduction, a second section will include a short analysis of the functional approach in explaining the accounting profession in the late 19th century, with an emphasis on the specific knowledge and technical skills required by the profession. The third section will provide background information on Joseph Hardcastle, followed by discussion of Hardcastle's theories on accounting with comparisons to the literature of his time. A conclusion will summarize Hardcastle's contributions to accounting history.

INTRODUCTION

Carnegie and Napier state that it is important to understand the context within which historical events have occurred [1996, pp. 7, 22], and the importance of referencing key personalities who have contributed to accounting development. Since individuals as well as events create history, the study of individuals is crucial in understanding a profession, its history, and the success of its organizations. During the 19th century, many considered accounting in the U.K. to be more mature and established than in the U.S. The historical literature on 19th century U.K. is rich, especially with articles tracing the genesis of its professional accounting organizations and the men involved in forming them [Parker, 1983; Lee, 1996a, b; Edwards, 2001; and numerous others].

In reference to 19th century accountants in the U.S., Miranti [1990], as well as Webster [1954], discuss various participants in the emerging CPA movement. Other histories of accounting in the U.S. have included brief biographies devoted to individuals and their contributions to the development of the profession during the 19th century [Carey, 1969; Previts and Merino, 1998; Loeb and Miranti, 2004]. The New York Certified Public Accountant published short articles on the history of accounting in the State of New York starting in the late 1940s and ending in 1972. The New York Society's Committee on History, initially headed by Norman Webster, prepared these articles, which were reprinted in 1995 in The New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants--Foundation for a Profession. The majority of the biographies included were accountants whose careers were mostly situated in the 20th century, although three of the articles were on three prominent 19th century accountants--Hardcastle, Charles Ezra Sprague, and Charles Waldo Haskins.

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