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Dictionary of Business Biography

By T.C. Barker | Published in History Today 1987 
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T.C. Barker on the 1,170 entries in the volumes of English and Welsh business history.
  • Dictionary of Business Biography
    Edited by David J. Jeremy. (Butterworths, 5 volumes, 1984-6)
This is a most attractively presented work, well researched and very readable: a series of biographies set out in clear type with wide margins and apt illustrations, not a mere lexicon of fact running to page after dreary page of dense black type. The large volumes may be difficult to hold; but they are not easy to put down. The main points about each subject's family background, as well as his business career, the downs as well as the ups, can be quickly grasped in succinct and usually highly digestible form without having to wade through pages of verbiage. In all there are some 1,170 entries running to 4,420 pages. The whole remarkable project, financed by the Social Science (now the Economic and Social) Research Council and undertaken by the Business History Unit at LSE, has been completed within five years.

The volumes are concerned with businesses in England and Wales. Although there are many native-born Scots to be found in these pages – Sir Alfred and Sir Thomas McAlpine, for instance, or Sir Thomas McLintock – Scots who were in business primarily in Scotland have been excluded because a parallel, though differently conceived, Dictionary is being compiled at Glasgow University for them. Care has been taken here to avoid over-emphasis on manufacturers and inventors about whom, from Samuel Smiles onwards, much has been written to the neglect of other important business leaders in finance, public utilities, construction and services in general. Small groups of specialist advisers helped the editor to identify those to be included, a general balance being ensured by relating totals to each business sector's contribution to the Gross Domestic Product. In this way numerous entries concern men who are little known to the general public, who did not give their names to their products and generally shunned the limelight but are nevertheless of importance; men such as Cecil Budd (d.1945), trader in copper and chairman of the London Metal Exchange and Frank Twyman (d.1959), who developed optical instruments and spectro-chemical analysis. At the end of each entry is a list of the subject's writings and of the sources, published and unpublished, in which he is mentioned. The size of his personal estate at time of death is also given.

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