To say that this book took longer than planned would be an understatement. Many of the lessons I have learned along the way begin with ‘how not to’ and they have limited value for anyone other than me. However, there is one lesson that may be of broader interest since it says something about writing on the subject that is the focus of this book. It is ‘how not to end up writing a different book than the one you started’.
Financial history is written by a variety of scholars but, at the risk of some simplification, they can be divided into two types. Some people who study financial history are fascinated by finance for its intrinsic interest and are keen to understand the complexities of the financial dynamics of the past for their own sake. Other scholars, in contrast, are interested in financial history insofar as it tells us something of larger importance about the societies in which financial systems are embedded. The importance of the distinction can be seen in the way that different scholars write financial history and, in particular, in the attention they accord to the intricacies of financial structures and dynamics as compared with the links between the financial system and other social, political, or economic spheres.
I belong firmly in the category of scholar interested in the broader importance of financial structures and dynamics and, specifically, their implications for the enterprises, industries, and nations that are building blocks of the real economy. Therefore, when I began this project, I had a different book in mind, one that was preoccupied with the ‘real’ economic impact of the US securities markets from the Civil War through the First World War. It was based on a series of case studies that analysed how different industries used the securities markets and drew implications from these patterns for the way economists and historians think about the role these markets play in the economy. If that sounds like a concrete description of what I had in mind, that is because it was not just in my mind. I completed a great deal of research for this original book, generating drafts of chapters on brewing, steel, electrical equipment, retail, automobiles, and aviation, and presenting them to different audiences. From this vantage point, I learned a great deal about the financial implications of the technological and market dynamics of different industries. However, even if the various parts of this book made sense in their own right, I struggled to bring them together into a coherent history of the US securities markets.
It took me a long time to figure out what was wrong and, when the realization hit, it was not a good moment. Simply put, I had been writing the wrong book. My interest in the ‘real’ impact of the financial sector made it (p.viii) natural for me to come at the history of the securities markets from the perspective of the enterprises and industries that relied upon them. Yet, the farther I advanced, the more I suspected that seeing the history of US securities markets solely from the perspective of the productive sector was giving me a lopsided view of them. Specifically, I needed to bring the financial aspects of the story into sharper focus by placing the securities markets’ relationship with the rest of the US financial system at the centre of my analysis.
My instinctive bias was typical of scholars who are interested in the broader economic impact of financial systems and tend to focus on the relationship between finance and investment. In contrast, those who emphasize the inherent importance of the financial sector tend to be preoccupied with its internal characteristics and rhythms and to pay only limited attention to its connections with the rest of the economy. As my book project proceeded, it became increasingly clear to me that neither approach was sufficient. Eventually I understood that to write a compelling history of the US securities markets, I needed to analyse those markets in the context of both the productive and financial dynamics of the US economy.
That realization generated a rather different book from the one I had set out to write and, for some time, I resisted it. I prevaricated for a while, trying to save chapters I had already written, and to patch on some new material to broaden the book’s scope. Increasingly, however, I realized that I had reconceived the book I was writing. Once that dawned upon me, the new clarity felt so right that I could not resist it and it might even have been comforting were it not for the fact that I then confronted the challenge of completing the new book!
Now that it is finished, I wonder why I struggled so long to see what needed to be done. This book addresses the historical evolution of the US securities markets from the Civil War through the First World War by looking at their changing relationships to the productive and financial sectors of the US economy. It is a book that is primarily concerned with understanding how these securities markets became integral to the US system of capitalism. Specifically, it explains how the changing productive and financial systems of the United States propelled securities markets into a central role in the institutional constellation that sustained the country’s system of capitalism.
Working on this book project over a series of years, and maintaining confidence in my capacity to complete it, depended on a great deal of intellectual support. Some of the most helpful and insightful colleagues I have found were at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. It was there that I began working in earnest on a book project and even got to the point where I thought I was close to finishing it. I could not have asked for a better group of colleagues especially Mauro Guillén, Steve Kobrin, and Gerry McDermott who engaged with what I was writing and offered advice and encouragement. Other colleagues in the Management department at Wharton, (p.ix) especially Wit Henisz, Dan Levinthal, Dan Raff, and Sid Winter, were a source of constant stimulation as I developed my project, as was Walter Licht in the history department at the University of Pennsylvania. My years in Philadelphia were further enriched by Richard Deeg and Kathy Steen from the neighbouring universities of Temple and Drexel who offered intellectual camaraderie and warm companionship.
When I left the United States in 2010, I regretted losing such great colleagues but I was convinced I needed to find a greater coherence between my research and teaching. I hope to have found that in the Department of History, Economics and Society at the University of Geneva. My immediate colleagues are scholars who are passionate about history and economics and it strikes me as a real luxury to interact with them on a daily basis. I owe a special word of thanks to both Juan Flores and Matthieu Leimgruber for their intellectual support and their collegiality. I would also like to thank Edoardo Altamura, Sebastian Alvarez, Fionna Caloz, Cédric Chambru, Jérémy Ducros, Christophe Farquet, Lea Haller, Liza Lombardi, Jamieson Myles, Sabine Pitteloud, Jean Rochat, Sabrina Sigel, Christian Stohr, and Sylvain Wenger for the contributions they made to this book through their feedback, encouragement, and occasional teasing. My colleague Delphine Gardey inspired me by surviving the kind of administrative overload I faced on arrival to write a great book. And Bernard Debarbieux, as dean of my faculty, realized just how much I needed teaching relief at a crucial moment in the development of the manuscript and made sure I got it. I am also extremely grateful to Gareth Austin, Philip Benedict, Christoph Conrad, Marc Flandreau, Sandrine Kott, and Matthias Schulz for integrating me into a broader network of historians in Geneva.
In addition, there are many colleagues in the broader world of economic, financial, and business history whose identities did not change as I shifted institutions and continents. Some of them have played a sustained role in influencing my thinking on this book while others have offered insights on one or two crucial occasions. Although it surely excludes some important names, the following list will have to suffice in acknowledging them: Ed Balleisen, Tine Bruland, Youssef Cassis, Andrea Colli, Thomas David, Jeff Fear, Olivier Feiertag, Patrick Fridenson, Walter Friedman, Lou Galambos, Meg Graham, Les Hannah, Per Hansen, Pierre-Cyrille Hautcoeur, Eric Hilt, Richard John, Chris Kobrak, Naomi Lamoreaux, Maggie Levenstein, Ken Lipartito, Aldo Musacchio, Susie Pak, Tobias Straumann, Ellis Tallman and Dick Sylla. In addition, I have drawn intellectual inspiration and sustenance from colleagues in economics and political science over the last few years. I am grateful for the stimulating discussions I have had with Mike Best, François Chesnais, Benjamin Coriat, Bruce Kogut, Mariana Mazzucato, Dick Nelson, Luigi Orsenigo, Carlota Perez, David Rueda, Catherine Sauviat, Keith Smith, David Soskice, and Kathy Thelen and to Bill Lazonick for his many insightful comments on drafts of various chapters. Finally, I appreciate the engagement of audiences at the University of Bocconi, Copenhagen Business School, (p.x) Cambridge University, Columbia University, the European University Institute, University of Glasgow, Harvard University, London School of Economics, New York University, University of Oxford, Paris School of Economics, Rutgers University, University of Toronto, and Yale University where I have presented the various iterations of this book in recent years.
I greatly appreciate the unfailing support of the editorial team at OUP–David Musson, Emma Booth and, most recently, Clare Kennedy–and the invaluable assistance of Hayley Buckley, Jo North and Lydia Shinoj in getting this book to press. Dedicated and knowledgeable archivists have proven indispensable to me in writing it. I am especially grateful to Janet Linde at the New York Stock Exchange who, along with Stephen Wheeler, was enormously accommodating and helpful to me in my regular visits there over the years. The staff at the Guildhall Library in London was extremely understanding of the practical challenges that confronted a Geneva-based scholar in using the archives of the London Stock Exchange. The excellent conditions and competent staff at the Morgan Library and Museum as well as the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University made working there a real pleasure. And a special word of thanks to Julie Sager at the archives of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York for her resourcefulness and flexibility in helping me access some fascinating material there. In recent years, I have had the misfortune to have my archives in places other than the one where I live. However, the challenges that situation generates were greatly reduced by friends, especially Bruce and Monika Kogut, Kate Kuper, and Anne and Evan Rawley, who looked after me on my trips to New York City and London.
Still on a personal note, my brothers and sisters and their families have supported me, in very Irish fashion, through a combination of black humour, warm affection, and a certain insouciance about whether ‘the’ book would ever be finished. My mother was constantly mystified that it could take me so long to write a book that so few people would ever read but she never lost confidence in my ability to do so. Friends have offered much-needed breaks from the grind at opportune moments and both Bettina Yadigaroglu and Judith Benedict have been on hand in Geneva when I most needed it. Then there are the people who are so close to home that they have had no choice but to live with this book and its author on a daily basis. On his frequent trips to see us, my stepson, Alex, managed to show constant enthusiasm for what I was writing. More than anyone else, Jonas has lived with the quotidian vagaries of this book over a long period of time and I am extremely grateful for the invaluable support he has given me through penetrating intellectual criticism and comforting culinary sustenance. Finally, there is Molly to whom this book is dedicated partly because she does not remember a time when her mother was not writing a book and mostly because she made sure that life was so much more than that.