Few, if any, books attempt to combine a comprehensive business history of the United States with basic economic history. Moreover, those that do approach either business or economic history do so from an “institutional” perspective, focusing on big corporations and, oddly, government actions. In American Entrepreneur, our aim is not only to combine business and economic history, but to tell it in an entertaining and informative way by focusing on the individuals who made America's economy the greatest in the world.
This sweeping story begins with the logical and yet exceptional development of early merchants such as Thomas Hancock, who then became owners of textile mills and other established businesses. Those mill owners—people like Samuel Slater and Francis Cabot Lowell— soon needed financing, giving rise to America's early banks. Bankers and politicians, seeing the need for “internal improvements,” provided the infrastructure for such marvels as the Erie Canal, but also the opportunity for extraordinary businessmen like Cornelius Vanderbilt. “The Commodore,” as Vanderbilt was called, soon stretched his steamship lines across the oceans, and then began linking American cities by rail. With the advent of the railroads, business in the United States entered a “managerial revolution” where professional managers began to make the key decisions in major companies.
As the railroads grew, they became intertwined with other largescale industries, such as Andrew Carnegie's steel company, John D. Rockefeller's refining business, and, of course, the banking businesses of J. P. Morgan. At the turn of the century, the owner-operated firm was disappearing, replaced by “managerial hierarchies.” This form of business brought new advantages, including the ability to expand almost