American Entrepreneur: The Fascinating Stories of the People Who Defined Business in the United States

By Larry Schweikart; Lynne Pierson Doti | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
European Settlement and Business
Enterprise in the New World

In the 1300s, Europe languished under a succession of famines and poor harvests—complicated by the Black Death, which killed one-third of the population (England suffered an even sharper decline of 40 percent). The demographic crisis spawned a period of lawlessness, as bandits and pirates inhibited commerce and discouraged investment. Nevertheless, the so-called “Dark Ages” had left a foundation for entrepreneurial success in the form of the monastic farms, which demonstrated division of labor and specialization; the free farm—unseen in the Islamic world; and the rational process of inquiry, enhanced by dozens of universities that dotted Europe. By the 1400s, though, trade had revived as nation-states established order and as merchants devised new tools for facilitating the exchange of goods and services, not the least of which was the bill of exchange. Until bills of exchange appeared, the only money accepted by most merchants, especially at long distances from the purchaser's home, was gold or silver coin. The heavy weight of coins, however, made this money difficult and unsafe to carry. As early as the 1100s, Italian trading cities pioneered paper promissory notes that the seller accepted from the purchaser and then converted into gold or silver upon demand at the purchaser's city. These bills of exchange carried a future date, after which the seller

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