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This work chronicles the rise of Western Union Telegraph from its origins in the helter-skelter ferment of antebellum capitalism to its apogee as the first corporation to monopolize an industry on a national scale. The battles that raged over Western Union's monopoly on 19th century American telecommunications – in Congress, in courts, and in the press – illuminate the fierce tensions over the rising power of corporations after the Civil War and the reshaping of American political economy. The telegraph debate reveals that what we understand as the normative relationship between private capital and public interest is the product of a historical process that was neither inevitable nor uncontested. Western Union's monopoly was not the result of market logic or a managerial revolution, but the conscious creation of entrepreneurs protecting their investments. In the process, these entrepreneurs elevated economic liberalism above traditional republican principles of public interest and helped create a new corporate order.Read more
- Cuts across political, economic and technological history to write a history of capitalism
- Challenges the argument that the corporate revolution was a technological inevitability
- Offers a highly detailed view of the rise and decline of one of the nineteenth century's most important corporations
Reviews & endorsements
"Joshua Wolff presents a thoroughly researched, deftly argued, and gracefully written history of America’s first industrial monopoly. He demonstrates that the rise of Western Union cemented the corporate order that characterized economic life in the late nineteenth century and afterward. This book is indispensable to historians of American capitalism."
David Hochfelder, University at Albany, State University of New YorkSee more reviews
"Company history is overdue for a revival. This solidly researched, lucidly framed, and engagingly written monograph reminds us of the challenge that lawmakers confront in distinguishing the financial self-interest of investors from the public good."
Richard R. John, author of Network Nation: Inventing American Telecommunications
"Thorough in its research yet sweeping in its conclusions, this study of the rise of Western Union provides us with a new interpretation of the development of the telecommunications industry in the late nineteenth century - and a new way of seeing the rise of industrial capitalism. Given the role of market ideology, business power, and communications technology in our economy and society today, it is not only historically insightful but timely."
Kimberly Phillips-Fein, New York University
"Joshua D. Wolff's Western Union and the Creation of the American Corporate Order, 1845–1893 presents a meticulous account of the birth of big business in America. Spanning the ages of proprietary and corporate capitalism, his study uncovers the origins of our own sped-up world of global communications. This includes a familiar litany of patents, finance, politics, and business innovation that sheds important light on the relationship between technology and profit and reminds us how much capitalists hate market competition. In so doing, Wolff has deepened our understanding of the complicated relationship between private gain and public good in a liberal democracy."
Michael Zakim, Tel Aviv University
"Until now there has been no full-scale, modern company history. Joshua D. Wolff's [book] ably fills the bill, offering an exhaustive and yet fascinating account."
Wall Street Journal
"… a compelling history of the rise of the Western Union Telegraph Company …"
Jonathan Levy, Journal of American History
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- Date Published: January 2015
- format: Paperback
- isbn: 9781107480902
- length: 318 pages
- dimensions: 229 x 152 x 18 mm
- weight: 0.47kg
- availability: Available
Table of Contents
1. The meanest property in the world
2. Midwife to monopoly
3. 'An entering wedge' against monopoly
4. 'A very big thing'
5. No middle ground
6. The specter of competition
7. First time tragedy, second time farce
8. Octopus of the wires.
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