Introduction: Business Development and Economic Structure in Britain since 1880

  • Leslie Hannah

Abstract

In the last twenty years, the subject of business history has developed rapidly in the United Kingdom, largely because of the initiatives of major companies in commissioning business histories by professional historians. The histories of Unilever, ICI, W. D. and H. O. Wills, Boots, and Courtaulds1 have set a high standard and now offer to the economic historian a wealth of case study material with which to enrich his analysis of Britain’s recent economic development. Yet there seems to be general agreement that the harvest from these rich possibilities has so far been a limited one. There has been too great a temptation to generalise from the single case, or — it is difficult to see it as the lesser failing — not to generalise at all. The intellectual ‘spinoff’ from business history to economic history and economics has not been as great as might reasonably have been hoped. Yet two works which have attempted to generalise from business history case study material have been widely welcomed by economic historians and social scientists in general. I refer, of course, to Professor Edith Penrose’s Theory of the Growth of the Firm2 and Professor Alfred D. Chandler’s Strategy and Structure. Chapters in the History of Industrial Enter prise.3 The intellectual traffic has thus not all been one-way, from the older disciplines to business history: the historical case study method exemplified in the work of Chandler has made an important contribution to the development of new ideas in the theory of the firm,4 and this prompts legitimate expectations of further generalisations.

Keywords

Depression Europe Petroleum Polythene Income 

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Notes

  1. 1a.
    C. Wilson, The History of Unilever, 2 vols (London, 1954 ).Google Scholar
  2. 1b.
    W. J. Reader, Imperial Chemical Industries: A History, 2 vols (London, 1970, 1975 ).Google Scholar
  3. 1c.
    B. W. E. Alford, W. D. and H. O. Wills and the development of the U.K. Tobacco Industry 1786–1965 (London, 1973).Google Scholar
  4. 1d.
    S. D. Chapman, Jesse Boot of Boots the Chemists (London, 1974 ).Google Scholar
  5. 1e.
    D. C. Coleman, Courtaulds: An Economic and Social History, 2 vols (Oxford, 1969 ).Google Scholar
  6. 3.
    (Cambridge, Mass., 1962 ). See also R. S. Edwards and H. Townsend, Business Enterprise (London, 1958 ).Google Scholar
  7. 3a.
    Bruce R. Scott, ‘Stages in Corporate Development’, unpublished paper, (Harvard Business School, 1971 ).Google Scholar
  8. 4.
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    For a fuller consideration of the nature of the stochastic process which may determine the growth of firms, see L. Hannah and J. A. Kay, Concentration in Modern Industry: Theory, Measurement and the U.K. Experience (London, 1976).Google Scholar
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    see W. B. Reddaway, Effects of U.K. Direct Investment Overseas (Cambridge, 1968).Google Scholar
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  21. 50.
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  22. 52.
    Payne, ‘Emergence of the Large-Scale Company in Great Britain’, Economic History Review, xx (1967) 527–36.Google Scholar
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    L. Hannah, ‘Mergers in British Manufacturing Industry 1880–1918’, Oxford Economic Papers xxvt (1974) pp.13–14.Google Scholar
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    D. F. Channon, The Strategy and Structure of British Enterprise (London, 1973 ) pp. 25–32.Google Scholar
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  27. 64.
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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1976

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leslie Hannah

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