An Entrepreneurial History of the United States An Entrepreneurial History of the United States
By Gerald Gunderson
2005/02 - Beard Books
1587981564 - Paperback - Reprint -  286 pp.

A brilliant panorama of American business geniuses who embody the essence of entrepreneurship.

Publisher Comments

Category: Banking & Finance

This title is part of the Business Histories list.

Of Interest:

A Response to Industrialism: Liberal Businessmen and the Evolving Spectrum of Capitalist Reform, 1886-1960

Dangerous Dreamers: The Financial Innovators from Charles Merrill to Michael Milken

Entrepreneurship: Back to Basics

Insull: The Rise and Fall of a Billionaire Utility Tycoon

Made in the USA: The History of American Business

Takeover: The New Wall Street Warriors: The Men, the Money, the Impact

The Entrepreneurs: Explorations Within the American Business Tradition

The Global Bankers

The Rise and Fall of the Conglomerate Kings

The Self-Made Man: Stress and Success American Style

There is no doubt that entrepreneurship is a corollary of American business. The world's most famous entrepreneurs have been American: Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, Edward H. Harriman, J.P. Morgan, and Pierre du Pont, to name a few. Their very names are synonymous with entrepreneurship. The stories of their success make the concept of entrepreneurship tangible and underline the limitless potential of applying energy and imagination. The American economy provides the largest and richest study of how entrepreneurs have advanced technologies, organizations, and social patterns-in short, the full spectrum of human opportunities. Globalization is one aspect of widespread and robust entrepreneurship. To be sure, business practices spawned and developed here are being used all over the world with some variations. This magnetic book examines the emergence and role of the innovative entrepreneur in the United States from the colonial period to modern times and provides a probing exploration of our unique past.

Review by Henry Berry, Turnarounds and Workouts:

The first American colonists were the earliest entrepreneurs in this country. Bearing a positive outlook and pursuing dreams of success, they were the model for generations of entrepreneurs to follow. Yet, unlike their predecessors who found fortune in Europe and other regions of the world, these “Founding Entrepreneurs....had to create a viable operation out of local resources, which had yet to yield anywhere near a competitive return,” says Gunderson in An Entrepreneurial History of the United States. 

These first capitalists played a critical role in the development of the United States into a global economic power and a country that has, on the whole, created an exemplary standard of living for its citizens. As Gunderson notes, these early entrepreneurs were successful in “redeploying resources...creating exports that were competitive in international trade, and devising organizations that encouraged participants to harness their personal interests toward those of the colony.” 

An Entrepreneurial History of the United States, first published in 1989, chronicles the story of the nation’s economic beginning, and makes the story compelling by including profiles of famed business figures and companies. The stories of such entrepreneurs as Robert Fulton, John Jacob Astor, Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford and such companies as AT&T, DuPont, and Sears Roebuck are told. 

However, the book is more instructive than that. The author breaks down entrepreneurship into phases tied to ever-changing business conditions and social circumstances. In some cases, entrepreneurship helped to usher in new phases; in other cases, it seized on opportunities for new products or services arising at a particular time. The interplay between entrepreneurs and colonial society is thus a recurrent theme. 

This book also looks at the personal attributes shared by entrepreneurs, such as a special knowledge or ability in some field, a drive to apply this knowledge or ability to a business market in a novel way, and a combination of practicality and vision in applying the new idea. However, despite their creativity and drive, the author points out that few entrepreneurs were overnight successes. Their accomplishments were earned after a long, persistent period of trial and error. 

The successful entrepreneur was not an especially ingenious individual who took a big risk and saw it pay off. “A major misconception is that entrepreneurs assume particularly large risks,” says Gunderson. Rather, “a development usually unfolds as continuing, small problems, where mismanagement of an individual opportunity often can be corrected and then recouped by persistence.” Entrepreneurs are convinced they are on to something even in the face of obstacles and mismanagement in the early stages of their venture. Gunderson notes that, “As an entrepreneurial venture grows, its members learn about the niche that the product serves. Frequently the firm becomes recognized as the best source of such expertise in the world.” 

Thus is the formula for success unveiled. Anyone wishing to apply history to their own entrepreneurial dreams should read this book. 

Gerald Gunderson has held academic positions at Trinity College, the University of Massachusetts, Mount Holyoke College, and North Carolina State University. He is currently editor of the Journal of Private Enterprise.

From Publishers Weekly:

While natural resources, an abundant labor supply, available capital and the Protestant ethic of hard work and thrift all contributed to America's phenomenal economic development, Trinity College economics professor Gunderson, in his remarkably lucid, nontechnical, popular history, accords even greater credit to the motivation and initiative of individual and group entrepreneurs who possessed an ability to change and develop new technologies without which, he contends, an economy or society stagnates. Moreover, he persuasively challenges the view that modern growth did not begin until the Industrial Revolution, citing the entrepreneurial activities of the colonists (including those in shipping, which, he maintains, enabled the fledgling nation to defeat the British). He follows the evolution of entrepreneurs from such early 19th century inventors as Fulton, Morse and Cyrus McCormick to the great late 19th and 20th century tycoon-innovators who contributed to the unparalled growth of the country. But many of these entrepreneur-founders, he notes, failed to fill the new leadership demands of complex, publicly held mega-corporations, especially in the new service and electronic industries. (Apr.)

From Library Journal:

According to Gunderson (business and economics, Trinity Coll.), the growth of the U.S. economy since colonial times is due more to entrepreneurial initiative than to the more widely recognized theory of the Protestant work ethic. He retells the economic history of the United States by noting the contributions of many individual entrepreneurs who have, in his opinion, made a difference. This point of view invites comparison with George Gilder's The Spirit of Enterprise (LJ 2/1/85), which ultimately is the more important work. However, Gunderson does contribute an adequate survey of American business history to add to collections on the subject of enterpreneurship.-- Joseph Barth, U.S. Military Acad. Lib., West Point, N.Y.

From Booknews:

A history of business for general readers. Includes a short annotated bibliography. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR ( 

From Amazon:

What a disappointment to learn that this book is out of print. I no longer have my copy, as three years ago I gave this book to an Afrikaaner visitor who wished to understand America. He assured me I had made an excellent choice.

An entrepreneurial history from our colonial period forward, this text presents the American economic phenomenon as a classical case history. A lucid presentation of the personal and cultural wealth deriving from the custodial responsibility of ownership, it is an economic history which reads like a novel.

From Peter F. Drucker, author:

(The book) is a comprehensive yet concise-readable and yet scholarly-a brilliant overview of the men who built American business...

Gerald Gunderson has been the Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of American Business and Economic Enterprise, and has been director of the Shelby Cullom Davis Endowment at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, since 1982. He has held faculty appointments at the University of Massachusetts, Mount Holyoke College, and North Carolina State University. He earned a PhD in economics from the University of Washington in 1967. Professor Gunderson has published numerous academic papers and has authored columns in more than twenty newspapers in the United States. He served as president of the Association of Private Enterprise Education and is now editor of The Journal of Private Enteprise.

1 Founding the Colonies 1
2 Innovating Within the Colonial Environment 23
3 Entrepreneuring Permanent Opportunities During Revolutionary Times 39
4 Building Value as Ground Rules Shift 53
5 Exploiting the New National Market 74
6 Building Late-Nineteenth-Century Complex Enterprises 90
7 Entrepreneurs Adjust to the Expansive Economy 103
8 Public Perceptions of Entrepreneurs 123
9 Creating Opportunities and Controlling Choices 137
10 Developing Twentieth-Century Financial Mechanisms 150
11 Merchandising to a Large, Affluent Society 164
12 Constructing Institutions for Modern Science 175
13 Creating Twentieth-Century Mobility 187
14 The Entrepreneurs of Growing Government 204
15 Working with Mature Governments 221
16 America's Advantage in Entrepreneurship 238
Notes 259
Annotated Bibliography 266
Acknowledgements 268
Index 270

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