Understanding the American Past: American History and Its Interpretation

By Edward N. Saveth | Go to book overview

Henry Villard: Entrepreneur

by THOMAS COCHRAN

[ "The Legend of the Robber Barons," from The Pennsylvania
Magazine of History and Biography
, LXXIV ( July 1950), 307-
321. Reprinted by permission.]

Much of the recent research in American business history has centered in the role of the entrepreneur, particularly during the post- Civil War period of industrial capitalism. At Harvard, under the direction of Arthur H. Cole, there has been established a Research Center for Entrepreneurial History, the purpose of which in the cryptic language of Business Week is "to find out what makes thebusinessman tick and how his ticking has influenced the course of American history."1

As part of the program of the Research Center, Thomas Cochran has made a study of railroad entrepreneurship, mainly in the latter part of the nineteenth century. To this study the selection reprinted below is related.

Cochranand Cole, like Allan Nevins, do not hold with the Veblenesque view of the businessman as motivated solely by greed and the desire for profit. Influenced not a little by the work of Joseph Schumpeter, Colesees the entrepreneur as making a "creative response" to the problem that confront him. And it is the sum-total of creative responses, in all fields of human endeavor, including the field of business enterprise--Coleargues, as didSchumpeter-- that makes for human progress.

Cochran, who is Professor of Historyat the University of Pennsylvania, like the Harvardgroup generally, subscribes neither

-352-

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