The Entrepreneurs

The history of American entrepreneurship is full of colorful characters, both famous and unknown. This book concentrates on some three dozen of them, their brief biographies set with minimal historical background. The first chapter, “The Entrepreneurs,” begins with a short discussion of entrepreneurship. Some common attributes--imagination, daring, perseverance, the drive to succeed -- are noted. Then seven diverse profiles are presented encompassing the range of American entrepreneurship, from Thomas Edison to Charles Darrow (creator of the game “Monopoly”) to Fred Smith (founder of Federal Express).

Rather than follow a chronological sequence, each of the five remaining chapters is organized around a major field of endeavor. “The Land and Its People” discusses new processes which capitalize on America’s natural resources, and features businessmen such as Frederick Weyerhauser (lumber) and John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil). “Expanding America” describes the advances in transportation made by J. Edgar Thomson (Pennsylvania Railroad), Alfred P. Sloan (General Motors), and others.

“Made in America” is devoted to manufacturing processes, exemplified by entrepreneurs such as Andrew Carnegie (steel) and Henry Ford (automobiles). Montgomery Ward (catalog sales), the Resors (advertising), and others are featured in “Giving ’Em What They Want,” the story of marketing and distribution. Finally, “Instant America” describes advances in communication by individuals such as Samuel F. B. Morse (the telegraph) and Theodore N. Vail (AT&T).

This book is the companion volume to an identically titled six-part television series, and like a television script it moves rapidly from one topic to another. This approach allows Sobel and Sicilia to discuss many interesting people but leaves little space for overall historical perspective or in-depth consideration of any one person. Nevertheless, the authors succeed in displaying the diversity of the entrepreneurial enterprise, aided by 150 well-chosen illustrations.