A Short History of Business and Entrepreneurial Evolution during the 20th Century: Trends for the New Millennium

By Hunter, Murray | Geopolitics, History and International Relations, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

A Short History of Business and Entrepreneurial Evolution during the 20th Century: Trends for the New Millennium


Hunter, Murray, Geopolitics, History and International Relations


ABSTRACT. This paper presents an historical narrative about the role business and entrepreneurship has played in global development. It starts off with some of the key legacies of the 19th century and describes events through the 20th century in chronological order up until the first decade of this millennium. The paper concludes by peering into the future through the extrapolation of events that have taken place.

Keywords: economics, economic history, entrepreneurship, opportunity, technology, China, United States

1. Introduction

Looking at entrepreneurship from the economic-history context allows us to look at the flow of events in time and space such as inventions and innovations, the context in which they occurred and the impacts upon society these actions and events had. Looking directly at the biographies of historical figures can assist us in seeing the historical contexts of their efforts, innovations, or inventions. This may help us to understand how their insights occurred and opportunities were identified and exploited, showing us the reasons behind the trajectories these historical figures took with their inventions and innovations which impacted upon society's future development path.1 Take for example the biography of Thomas Edison we can see the importance of systematic development work, self promotion, and having a workable and viable business model in mind to exploit any subsequent invention. These were paramount elements of his success. Many of the failing entrepreneurs of the dot.com bust of 2000 failed to see the necessity of having a workable and viable business model to exploit their ideas and could have well learnt from the lessons Edison gave us.

Many inventions, subsequent commercialization and acceptance by society have dramatically changed our way of life over the centuries. Electricity and the electric light, the aircraft and jet engine, the automobile and combustion engine, and microchips, computers and mobile phones have all in different ways drastically changed society. These changes have led to further opportunities where entrepreneurs have been able to exploit. The transmission of electricity to homes allowed a host of other electrical devices to be invented, air travel led to air freight, travel agents, air terminal services, interstate, inter-regional and international business travel, and the building of hotels around the world, the automobile has led to automobile service stations, the invention of seat beats and other safety equipment, microchips have led to the invention of many items like digital watches, calculators, hand held GPS devices, and a host of other products, and computers and mobile phones have led to opportunities in software development and peripheral products and services. We owe the progression of our social existence to the invention of new technologies and ways of doing things, the creation of so many concepts and tangible things like alphabets, language, the wheel, farming techniques, cooking, social institutions, and the legal system, etc.

From the historical context it can be argued that innovation is governed by the period and place an entrepreneur resides.2 Thus innovation is a period and regional phenomenon3 and the great inventors through history were products of their environment spotting, and exploiting opportunities, rather than people with brilliance in isolation.4 The inventors and entrepreneurs only knew what their time and place allowed them to know.5 Innovation is thus a situational phenomenon and therefore the time and space aspect of understanding opportunity is important.

Following on from the above argument, novelty becomes a relative concept to time and space. Something that is new to one location may have long time been accepted product or service in another location. McDonalds was accepted in the United States market before it was introduced into foreign markets, were it was novel in each new market at the time of its introduction. …

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