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Business History: A Resource Guide

The resources included here will help those researching the history of American business, including industries, companies, and business leaders.


Russell Lee, photographer. Scene in business section of Gonzales, Texas. 1939. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Researchers seeking historical information about an old company or an extinct firm have a fair bit of detective work to do. Some aids for such a search have been gathered together in the Science and Business Reading Room reference collection and selected titles, primarily focusing on United States companies, are covered in this guide. When available, links are included to online tables of contents, indexes, and lists of sources cited for those resources for which they are available. The guide also includes selected internet resources relating to business history.

One should begin by searching for any works by or about the company in question in the Library of Congress online catalog and in appropriate bibliographies. Researchers will find wealth of historical information in various business and trade periodicals indexed and available in full-text in several subscription databases. These databases are listed in the Databases section and are only available for the Library of Congress patrons who are on-site and to other subscribers. In addition, researchers may consult several sets of company annual reports available on microfiche in Business Reference Services, including one covering the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Researchers may also be interested in consulting the online catalog under specific subject headings relating to various aspects of business, economic, and labor history for more general works on their topic as well as the Special Collections of the Library of Congress for other related materials.

Business staff at the Library of Congress have already created a number of guides that are historical in nature. Some, like those related to Wall Street and the various exchanges are short and geared toward more novice researchers. However, there are guides related to railroads, firearms manufacturers, and the National Recovery Administration that are geared to more advanced researchers and are more comprehensive in nature. There are also several industry related guides like the one for the alcoholic beverages that do have a significant historical component and many of the sources included are serials which have been published for decades. There are also guides like Selected Dun and Bradstreet Publications in the Library of Congress, United States Banking Periodicals: A Guide to Major Titles in the Collections of the Library of Congress, and Early Business Periodicals: A Guide to Major Titles available in the Collections of the Library of Congress will be helpful for researchers interested in finding specific types of periodicals.

Trade catalogs can also be valuable sources of historical information. The Library of Congress offers an online guide How to Find Trade Catalogs in the Library of Congress compiled by reference specialists at Researcher and Reference Services Division.

About the Business Section

Part of the Science & Business Reading Room at the Library of Congress, the Business Section is the starting point for conducting research at the Library of Congress in the subject areas of business and economics. Here, reference specialists in specific subject areas of business assist patrons in formulating search strategies and gaining access to the information and materials contained in the Library's rich collections of business and economics materials.