Big Business

Modern management began with railroads. To increase productivity, companies built office buildings and filled them with managers, accountants, secretaries, and clerks.

B&O Railroad manager, 1904

B&O Railroad manager, 1904

Postcard, Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. home office

Postcard, Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. home office

The Singer Story

Singer was one of the first big businesses. Although the sewing machine was a breakthrough technology, success took more. The company excelled at clever marketing. It opened factories and sales offices around the world. A vast new office workforce maintained control and profitability. By 1900 Singer was multinational. Singer Manufacturing pioneered many new business techniques. It instituted installment sales, sought to develop a home-user market, modernized manufacturing, and expanded into international sales.

Model of Singer Tower, New York City, 1908

Model of Singer Tower, New York City, 1908

Created for American Enterprise exhibition

Model of Director’s office, New York City
Model of Director’s office, New York City

Created for American Enterprise exhibition

Model of Singer branch office, St. Petersburg, Russia, 1904
Model of Singer branch office, St. Petersburg, Russia, 1904

Created for American Enterprise exhibition

Model of Singer salesroom, Sydney, Australia, 1898
Model of Singer salesroom, Sydney, Australia, 1898

Created for American Enterprise exhibition

Underwood #5 typewriter, 1914

Big companies needed office workers to process correspondence, memos, and many sorts of paperwork. Increasingly women, with little chance of advancement, replaced men as clerks.

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Burroughs adding machine, 1915

Operating a widely distributed operation required new forms of management and attention to detail. Managers increasingly used accounting to monitor output, revenue, and costs.

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Singer sewing machine patent model, 1851

Inventor Isaac Singer patented sewing machine improvements in 1851. But to make the company successful, president Edward Clark had to join a sewing machine patent combination.

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Singer ad, 1901

Singer ad, 1901

Operating an international business required fast, secure, and inexpensive communication. Writing telegraph messages in code made them shorter, cheaper, and more secure from industrial spies.

Telegraph key, about 1910

Telegraph codebook, about 1910

Telegraph codebook, about 1910

R.G. Dun & Co. credit report ledger page, 1876–1879

R.G. Dun & Co. credit report ledger page, 1876–1879

As businesses grew, knowing clients personally and spotting poor credit risks became difficult. Subscribers to the Dun credit report often got very personal descriptions.

Courtesy of Harvard University, Baker Library, Harvard Business School