Accounting for Steam and Cotton: Two Eighteenth Century Case Studies

By Cross, Joann Noe | The Accounting Historians Journal, June 1999 | Go to article overview

Accounting for Steam and Cotton: Two Eighteenth Century Case Studies


Cross, Joann Noe, The Accounting Historians Journal


Robert B. Williams, Accounting for Steam and Cotton: Two Eighteenth Century Case Studies (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1997, 282 pp., $57)

Reviewed by Joann Noe Cross Univerisity of Wisconsin Oshkosh

The title of this book is, unfortunately, terribly misleading. Although it is true that it touches on accounting for steam and cotton, it does so much more that steam engines and cotton cloth become mere footnotes to the main theme. This book is really about providing a historical and biographical perspective on the development of cost accounting techniques and their contributions toward advancing the British Industrial Revolution.

The book has three major sections. The first and second chapters are an intriguing synopsis of the economic history of manufacturing and the role accounting played in the evolution of business from selling to manufacturing. The first chapter carefully outlines the environment that encouraged the development of the factory system, the core of the Industrial Revolution. The second chapter, entitled "The People," considers the individuals who developed the principles of costing and cost accounting within that factory system. More than that, however, this chapter describes the cultural factors which motivated and molded these individuals. Many of those factors, such as the scientific tone of the Enlightenment and the role of dissenting religious views, become obvious once the author explains their somewhat obscure relationship to factory management and accounting.

The third and fourth chapters consider the specific contributions and embryonic development of cost accounting practices by Samuel Oldknow and James Watt jnr. …

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