Archive for the tag 'business history'

History of the Express Business by Alexander Lovett Stimson: a short review

I’ve seen this book described as “indispensable.” It might well be that, but it’s odd. There is, indeed, a history of the express companies in here, which covers the territory in great detail, including long lists of key players and word portraits of the communities served by the agencies. Stimson was amazingly well-connected, and interested in everything about the trade. The narrative is constantly interrupted, though, by not-very-relevant asides, and he’s prone to offering political opinions. Stimson’s also thoroughly convinced that the express agencies played a major role in the settlement of the American west–an opinion with some validity, to be sure, but not to the degree this author claims. The long lists he likes to compile often seem pointless. The author’s also prone to word play, to a degree that’s positively annoying. And the book ends with over a hundred pages of miscellaneous material.

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News Over the Wires by Menahem Blondheim: a short review

Impeccable research; serviceable but certainly readable prose. Truly a great job of historical synthesis.

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Robert Morris by Charles Rappleye: a review

The strongest takeaway, for me, is a reminder about how fragile the American Revolution really was. Rappleye certainly gives Morris too much credit for the Republic’s survival, but what’s clear is that Robert Morris was a key player and that his financial machinations were essential. Rappleye portrays his subject as a master administrator and a master politician, and generally succeeds in bringing him to life.

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Competitive Struggle by R.G. Robertson: a review

An extremely well-researched and well-written book about the fur trading posts in the continental United States west of the Mississippi River. More or less incidental to that accomplishment, Robertson gives us a fine history of the firms headed by John Jacob Astor and generations of the Chouteau family, and of the folks who attempted to compete with them in the beaver and buffalo hide trades.

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Stagecoach by Philip Fradkin: a review

A celebration of the first 150 years of the Wells Fargo Company. Very readable and obviously well-researched, and just critical enough to avoid being a company hagiography.

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When Washington Shut Down Wall Street by William L. Silber: a review

While I’m not versed in this material, other interests had me reading about this crisis a couple decades ago; those were dry, theoretical books and essays arguing abstruse points. This book gently reminded me of those, but it’s far more readable; then it extended them, because Silber argues that these events led directly to Wall Street’s century-long reign as the world’s economic center. Absolutely delightful.

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Paddlewheels on the Upper Mississippi by Nancy and Robert Goodman: a short review

Regional history the way it ought more often to be written; this book is far better than I anticipated. It’s an excellent survey of the economics, social realities, and technical issues which drove shipping on the Upper Mississippi prior to the arrival of the railroads. What it does unusually well is show how local development reflected the developing national context. Absolutely delightful.

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The Iron Ores of Lake Superior (1923) by Crowell and Murray: a short review

Absolutely essential if you’re studying iron ore shipping on the great lakes, or iron mining along the shores of Lake Superior. This book contains a surprising, and wonderful, amount of information about individual mines, and about the companies which ran those mines.

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Railroad Fever

The entire nation had the Railroad Fever in 1869. Michigan was nursing two outbreaks: Promoters were raising money to build a more direct line (an “air line”) between Detroit and Chicago which would roughly follow the route of the Chicago Road, and actual construction was occurring for a line connecting Jackson and Grand Rapids. Both remain interesting, for different reasons.

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