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Historians of technology once famously asked, “does technology drive history?” Their answer was, “it depends.” The phenomena of history do not float atop of the changes within material practices and technology, but neither do they stand apart from them; the two are intimately entwined in the contingent, intermittent unfolding of history. The challe…
 
Long before automobiles roll off the assembly line, their many components are manufactured by a sprawling constellation of smaller businesses that supply the makers of finished automobiles. This automobile supply chain began in the 1920s within the Detroit metropolitan area, and by the 1960s had swollen to embrace an area roughly 600 miles in radiu…
 
Scholars have written histories of public relations. Scholars have written histories of labor. Scholars had yet to bring the two histories into conversation with one another, that is until Patricia Curtin, professor at the University of Oregon, started her latest book project. Dr. Curtin’s research illustrates the many connections between public re…
 
DuPont was in the fashion business. The industrial giant cultivated markets for its novel synthetic textiles, such as Rayon, by interfacing with the wider world of fashion. This process brought one Alexis Ureyvitch Sommaripa, later known as “The Mad Russian,” to prominence. This elegant, cultured man was born in the Russian Empire in Odessa, Ukrain…
 
Corporate futurists made a living with their imaginations. These professional prognosticators spent their time looking at the world around them, observing its apparent changes and trends, and reporting to business and political leaders proscribed methods for interpreting and preparing for the future. Dr. Gavin Benke, senior lecturer at Boston Unive…
 
The Empire of Bethlehem Steel stretched from a small eastern-Pennsylvania city across the United States and down to Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, and Brazil. It encompassed dozens of plants, concerns, and subsidiary firms, and touched the lives of millions of people across multiple continents. During a century (1880s-1980s) of involvement in Lati…
 
From humble beginnings wholesaling at a small tobacconist-hairdresser shop in 1915, the London Rubber Company rapidly became the UK's biggest postwar producer and exporter of disposable rubber condoms. A first-mover and innovator, the company's continuous product development and strong brands (including Durex) allowed it to dominate supply to the r…
 
During the 1920s, major American corporations established in-house labor unions to address worker agitation. Labor historian Alex John Fleet, PhD candidate at Wayne State University, explores the phenomenon in his dissertation research. Seeking to uncover how company unions intersected with changing labor-management relations, and broader changes i…
 
Which is better for business, keeping workers happy, or keeping workers in line? The movement for corporate social responsibility (CSR) argued that management and workers shared a partnership that could multiply productivity and profits if properly nurtured. While labor unrest had roiled the business world for a generation, many leading American fi…
 
In "A Medicated Empire," Dr. Timothy Yang, associate professor at the University of Georgia, explores the history of Japan's pharmaceutical industry in the early twentieth century through a close account of Hoshi Pharmaceuticals, one of East Asia's most influential drug companies from the late 1910s through the early 1950s. Focusing on Hoshi's conn…
 
What happens to jobs when technology changes? How do new technologies change the ways people experience and think about work? Economic historian Ben Schneider, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Work Research Institute at Oslo Metropolitan University, explores these questions and more in his research on technology and work. Taking textile manufacturing and…
 
Hudson Maxim wanted his lake, and he didn’t mind twisting some arms to get it. The early-twentieth-century investor in Lake Hopatcong property wished to make it a destination for well-heeled travelers and pleasure seekers. Making his plans difficult were a cadre of challenges from intransigent executives, to the Morris Canal, to the hydrography of …
 
What did the Cold War sound like? How did political ideologies shape the differing experiences of musicians and consumers in the capitalist versus the communist world? Did the Iron Curtain muffle the raucous sounds of western popular music? Or were consumers in communist countries able to access capitalist pop? All these questions and more find ans…
 
The tallest building of its day opened as the Great Depression really began to squeeze the American economy. Was the Empire State Building a gigantic folly perpetrated by men with sky-scraping egos? Folks in the 1930s thought so, calling the monument the “Empty State Building,” because so little of its space had been rented. Yet, when viewed from t…
 
How many species had a hand in making that glass of beer? From the perspective of environmental history, human artefacts like beer result from more-than-human collaboration across time. Barley plants, hop vines, single-cell organisms, and a multiplicity of humans work together to bring beer into existence, and react to changes in the meteorological…
 
Concentrated market power and the weakened sway of corporate stakeholders over management have emerged as leading concerns of American political economy. In his book, Robbing Peter to Pay Paul: Power, Profits, and Productivity in Modern America, Samuel Milner provides a historical context for contemporary efforts to resolve these anxieties by exami…
 
Tax the Rich: Teachers’ Fight to Fund Public Schools with Kelly GoodmanEducation is among the largest public expenditures in the United States. How is school funding determined, and by whom? Between 1930 and 1980, teachers organized with allies to create new streams of funding to support public education, while their opponents counter-organized to …
 
Silence speaks volumes. Especially silences in historical memory, which reflect the values of a society as it chooses what and whom to remember. The du Pont family’s arrival in the United States is a well-worn tale of visionary men; what about the women of the family, their lives, perspectives, and contributions? The low profile of du Pont women in…
 
Imagine an office without walls or hierarchies, a space that allows for the free and open exchange of ideas and a way to work… better. How would one implement this? More importantly, what happens when design ideals collide with workplace reality? Jennifer Kaufmann-Buhler’s new book, Open Plan: A Design History of the American Office answers these q…
 
Twenty-first-century Americans are saturated with visual imagery and punchy messages authored by large organizations. This was not always so. Techniques for standardized mass communication developed in the late nineteenth century, such as photography, inexpensive printing, “magic lanterns,” and motion pictures, offered organization leaders unpreced…
 
How many fish can people catch before we exhaust the supply? Fisheries managers have deployed the language and techniques of science since the mid-nineteenth century in an intergenerational attempt to find out. Their efforts were part of a longer debate over whether the seas are an inexhaustible resource for human exploitation, or whether there are…
 
Oil palms are ubiquitous - grown in nearly every tropical country, they supply the world with more edible fat than any other plant and play a role in scores of packaged products, from lipstick and soap to margarine and cookies. And as Jonathan E. Robins shows, sweeping social transformations carried the plant around the planet. First brought to the…
 
Millions of black Americans left the Deep South fleeing violence and seeking opportunity during the Great Migration, one of the most dramatic demographic shifts in twentieth-century American history. Some communities welcomed these newcomers with open arms, going so far as to actively recruit them as industrial labor, while others attempted to shut…
 
Paula A. de la Cruz-Fernández’s book Gendered Capitalism: Sewing Machines and Multinational Business in Spain and Mexico, 1850–1940 explores how the gender-specific cultures of sewing and embroidery shaped the US Singer Sewing Machine Company’s operations. Using the cases of Spain and Mexico, Fernandez details how the cultural, everyday realm of fe…
 
What is the purpose of an American corporation? Is it to serve as an integral organ of society, generating plural benefits for owners, workers, communities, and the general public alike? Or is it strictly to generate monetary benefit for its owners? During the twentieth century, the dominant model of the American corporation shifted from the former…
 
Americans love cows. The United States possesses an entire economic sector geared for rearing, feeding, slaughtering, shipping, and eating the big-eyed ruminants. So all-encompassing is the American cattle-industrial complex that it helps determine what crops are grown on what land, what is done with the waste materials from chemical and food proce…
 
Did the American independent inventor ever go extinct? In his new book, American Independent Inventors In An Era of Corporate R&D, Eric S. Hintz argues that they persisted despite the development of corporate R&D during the twentieth century. In his new book Hintz explores the relationship between independent inventors and corporate R&D departments…
 
How did citrus fruit come to carry its particular meaning in American consumer culture? Visual artist Suzy Kopf, instructor at the Maryland Institute College of Art, visited the Hagley Library to research citrus companies’ efforts to sell their products to Americans. What she found was a much deeper story of how changing technologies, markets, and …
 
Hagley Center program officer Gregory Hargreaves interviews Dr. Rebecca Altman about her research into the intimate history of synthetic materials, industrial chemistry, & the human body. Altman, an environmental sociologist, has made extensive use of the Hagley Library’s vast collection of digitized materials available worldwide at digital.hagley.…
 
The Avon lady going door to door is a part of the popular American memory. From its founding in the nineteenth century Avon recruited women to make up its direct sales force, and later its emerging middle management class, encouraging them to take ownership of their own small business and to earn an income on their own. Many women were enthusiastic…
 
Hagley Center program officer Gregory Hargreaves interviews Dr. Li Cornfeld about her research into the history of theatrical live performance as a means of unveiling and promoting novel technologies. In support of her project, Cornfeld, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan Digital Studies Institute, received a NEH-Hagley postdoctora…
 
Hagley Center program officer Gregory Hargreaves interviews Lara Freidenfelds about her research into the history of marketers’ and advertisers’ intense targeting of pregnant women, and its implications for early pregnancy loss. In support of her project, Freidenfelds, a historian of science, received a research grant from the Center for the Histor…
 
In Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America, Marcia Chatelain explores how fast food restaurants saturated black neighborhoods and became, as well, a focal point in the development of “black capitalism.” To tell this story, she charts a surprising history of cooperation among fast food companies, black capitalists, and civil rights leaders, wh…
 
Hagley Center program officer Gregory Hargreaves interviews Roger Bailey about his research into how naval officers’ regional identities and beliefs about race, slavery, & territorial expansion affected their command decisions. In support of his project, Bailey, a PhD candidate in history at the University of Maryland, received a Henry Belin du Pon…
 
Hagley Center program officer Gregory Hargreaves interviews Dan Traficonte about his research into federal programs for technology development and their relationship with private industrial interests. In support of his project, Traficonte, a PhD candidate in urban studies & planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, received an explorat…
 
Hagley oral historian Ben Spohn interviews Grace Ong Yan about her recent book, Building Brands: Corporations and Modern Architecture. In her book, Ong Yan explores the development of corporate Modernism through architectural branding. She does this by examining the design and construction of four corporate headquarters: the PSFS Building by George…
 
Gregory Hargreaves interviews Kevin Bunch about his research into the early history of video games, and his innovative use of Hagley materials to recreate forgotten games. In support of his project, Bunch, a writer & communications specialist at the International Joint Commission, received support from the Center for the History of Business, Techno…
 
Gregory Hargreaves interviews Dr. Deirdre Evans-Pritchard about her media literacy project “Screentime: An Interactive Exhibition.” In support of her project, Evans-Pritchard, an art historian & film studies scholar at the University of Maryland, Global and Executive Director of the DC Independent Film Festival, received a Henry Belin du Pont Resea…
 
In the course of the twentieth century, Italy succeeded in establishing itself as one of the world's preeminent fashion capitals, despite the centuries-old predominance of Paris and London. This book traces the story of how this came to be, guiding readers through the major cultural and economic revolutions of twentieth-century Italy and how they s…
 
Program officer Gregory Hargreaves interviews Dr. Karen Mahar about her book project “Corner Office: Masculinity & the American Business Executive.” In support of her project, Mahan, an assistant professor, and co-director of American Studies at Siena College, received an NEH-Hagley fellowship from the Hagley Center for the History of Business, Tec…
 
Program officer Gregory Hargreaves interviews James McElroy about his dissertation project “Racial Segmentation & Market Segregation: The Late-Twentieth-Century History of the American City Supermarket, 1960-1990.” In support of his research, McElroy, PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota, received an exploratory research grant from the Hagl…
 
Hagley oral historian Ben Spohn interviews Ben Schwantes on his recent book, The Train and the Telegraph: A Revisionist History (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019). In the book, Schwantes argues that the relationship between the telegraph industry and the railroad industry is much more complicated than previously recognized. While the infrastruc…
 
The Shareholder Movement: Shareholder Activism & Activists in the Twentieth Century with Brian SargingerGregory Hargreaves interviews Brian Sarginger about his dissertation project “The Shareholder Movement: Shareholder Activism & Activists in the Twentieth Century.” In support of his work, Sarginger, a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland, …
 
Gastronomic Alchemy: How Black Philadelphia Caterers Transformed Taste into Capital, 1790-1925 Gregory Hargreaves interviews Dr. Danya Pilgrim about her book project “Gastronomic Alchemy: How Black Philadelphia Caterers Transformed Taste into Capital, 1790-1925.” In support of her research, Pilgrim, assistant professor at Temple University, receive…
 
In her book, The Industrialists: How the National Association of Manufacturers Shaped American Capitalism, Jennifer A. Delton traces the history of the National Association of Manufacturers—NAM—from its origins in 1895 to today. She argues that NAM—an organization best known for fighting unions, promoting “free enterprise,” and defending corporate …
 
The Punch Card Imagination: Authorship & Early Computing HistoryGregory Hargreaves interviews Zachary Mann about his dissertation project “The Punch Card Imagination: Authorship & Early Computing History.” In support of his project, Mann, a PhD candidate in English literature at the University of Southern California, received an exploratory grant t…
 
Bin, Bag, Box: The Architecture of ConvenienceGregory Hargreaves interviews Louisa Iarocci about her research project “Bin, Bag, Box: The Architecture of Convenience,” in support of which, Iarocci, an associate professor at the University of Washington at Seattle, received an exploratory grant from the Hagley Center for the History of Business, Tec…
 
CRAP: A History of Cheap Stuff in AmericaWendy A. Woloson is associate professor of history at Rutgers University – Camden. With a career as a museum curator, artist, and scholar of 19th century history, her new book is called Crap: A History of Cheap Stuff in America. In this book Woloson takes seriously the history of objects that are easy to dis…
 
INTRODUCTION OF THE ROLLED I-BEAM IN THE U.S.A. IN THE 1850S, REVISITEDGregory Hargreaves interviews Sara Wermiel about her research project “Introduction of the Rolled I-Beam in the U.S.A. in the 1850s, Revisited.” In support of her research, Wermiel, an independent scholar & historic preservation consultant, received a Henry Belin du Pont researc…
 
THE TRANSPACIFIC MIDDLEGregory Hargreaves interviews Sunny Xiang about her book project “The Transpacific Middle,” in support of which, Xiang, an assistant professor at Yale University, received an exploratory grant from the Hagley Center for the History of Business, Technology, & Society.In “The Transpacific Middle,” Xiang discusses her research o…
 
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