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O'Brien, A. The Business History of the United States
Tony notes that this course is titled Business History but it is very
similar to a standard American Economic History course.
Department of Economics Professor O'Brien
Lehigh University Spring 1996
The Business History of the United States
Office: 307 Rauch Business Center
Office Hours: W,F 1:30-3:00 and by appointment
Gary M. Walton and Hugh Rockoff, History of the American Economy, 7th edition.
Donald N. McCloskey, ed., Second Thoughts: Myths and Morals of U.S. Economic
Additional readings may also be distributed in class.
Grading: There will be three papers, of three to five pages each, due at
the beginning of class on the following days:
Paper 1 -- February 23
Papers 2 and 3 -- May 6 (last day of class)
Each paper will count for 15 percent of the course grade. There will be a
midterm rm on March 4 that will count for 20 percent and a comprehensive
final that will count for 35 percent. Effort and class attendance may
also be taken into account in borderline cases.
The Colonial Economy Chs. 2-6
The Confederation and Early
Constitutional Periods Chs. 7;Ch. 8,pp. 154-62
The Transportation Revolution Ch. 9
Antebellum Manufacturing Ch. 10
Antebellum Agriculture Ch. 8, pp. 162-70
The Economics of Slavery Ch. 13
The Economic Impact of
the Civil War Ch. 14
The Transcontinental Railroads: The First
Big Businesses Ch. 16
Post-Civil War Agriculture and
the Farm Revolt Ch. 15
Immigration, Urbanization, and
The Rise of National Labor Unions Ch. 18
The Great Merger Wave and the Rise
of the Modern Corporation Ch. 17
World War I and the 1920s Chs. 21-22
The Great Depression and
the New Deal Chs. 23-24
World War II and the Growth
of Big Government Chs. 25-26
The Decline in Manufacturing and the
Rise of the Service Economy Ch. 29
Three papers, of three to five pages each, are due at the beginning
of class s on the dates given on the first page. I have given you very
wide latitude in choosing your topics. There are three different types of
topics you can choose. You must choose at least two different types of
Choose one of the chapters in McCloskey's Second Thoughts book and write a
paper evaluating the argument made. You may agree or disagree with the
author's posit ion, but your discussion must be based on a critical
evaluation of the author's argument in light of your own reading on the
subject. You must have consulted at least three article s or books on the
Papers of this type must take the form of an answer to any one of the following
questions. Again, you must have consulted at least three articles or
books on the subject.
1. Choose one of the original thirteen colonies and discuss the structure
of its economy on the eve of the American Revolution. Indicate which
types of businesses were most t successful in this colony and discuss any
particular economic advantages or disadvantages the colony may have had.
2. Is there an economic explanation for the American Revolution?
3. Why were mechanical reapers not adopted more quickly on northern farms
before the Civil War?
4. Did the demise of the Second Bank of the United States have an
important impact on the U.S. economy?
5. Do you believe that Fogel and Engerman are correct that many slaves
possessed something like the "Protestant work ethic?" Discuss the
evidence presented on t his point by Fogel and Engerman and their critics.
6. If there had been no railroads, would the U.S. economy have grown
significantly more slowly during the 19th Century?
7. If there had been no Civil War, would the U.S. economy have grown
significantly more slowly during the 19th Century?
8. To what extent did market forces work to offset the economic effects
of racial prejudice in the late-19th Century?
9. How important was the stock market crash of October 1929 in explaining
the Great Depression?
10. Discuss the policies of the Federal Reserve during the 1930's. In
particular discuss whether there would have been a Great Depression if the
Federal Reserve had made no policy errors during those years.
11. How effective was the New Deal?
12. Why did it take so long for the South to rise again economically
after the Civil War? How has the South become the fastest growing region
in the U.S. since World War II?
13. Mass production techniques were seen by many people as the key to the
rise of the U.S. to industrial supremacy. Why then have traditional mass
production techniques come in for so much criticism in recent years?
Choose one of the following persons and write a paper discussing his or
her contribution to the American economy. While you may include a brief
biographical sketch of the person, your paper should focus on the person's
contribution. Persons other than those listed here may be acceptable
subjects, but check with me before you begin writing. Once again , you
must have consulted at least three articles or books on the person.
Andrew Carnegie (iron and steel)
James Buchanan Duke (tobacco)
George Eastman (cameras)
Henry Ford (autos)
Samuel Gompers (labor leader)
E.H. Harriman (railroad financier)
Steven Jobs (computers)
Cyrus McCormick (agricultural implements)
J.P. Morgan (banking)
Ralph Nader (consumer advocate)
Frances Perkins (civil servant)
Henry Poor (market information)
George Pullman (railroad sleeping cars)
A. Phillip Randolph (black labor leader)
John D. Rockefeller (oil)
Walter Reuther (labor leader auto industry)
Alfred Sloan (autos)
Mary Switzer (civil servant)
Frederick Taylor (scientific management)
William Vanderbilt (railroads)
Sam Walton (retailer)
Thomas J. Watson (business machines)
1. Each paper must make use of at least three sources (not including the
required textbook or the lectures). The Walton and Rockoff textbook
provides many references that you will find useful.
2. The Business Writing Clinic (located on the third floor of the Rauch
Business Center) is available to provide help at any stage of writing
3. Your papers should be integrated discussions of your topic. That is,
you should try to write essays and not collections of loosely connected
4. It is very important that the paper be grammatically correct and
contain no misspellings. It should be typed and legible. (These
considerations will be taken into account in determining the paper
5. The paper should conform to the usual guidelines for research papers. In
a. The source of every fact that is not common knowledge must be given either
in a footnote or in parenthesis.
b. Any sentences or parts of sentences reproduced from one of your sources must
be in quotation marks and the source must be acknowledged (not to do
this is plagiarism).
c. A bibliography, giving the full citation to each source must come at the end
of the paper.
8. Put your arguments in your own words. Slightly rewritten passages from your
sources are not acceptable. Avoid using jargon.
Anthony Patrick O'Brien (610) 758-3442
Department of Economics (610) 758-6762 fax
Lehigh University email@example.com
621 Taylor Street
Bethlehem, PA 18015-3117