Since the founding of the United States, the balance between capitalism and democracy – between individual opportunity and common good – has shaped the American experience. National values of competition, innovation, opportunity, and the common good have played an integral role in the nation’s history and comprised the building blocks of America’s business.
In its short history, the United States changed from a small upstart nation in the 1770s to one the world’s largest economies. The transformation of American commerce has provided opportunities for many, great benefits for some, and hardships for others. The exhibition traces the dynamic tensions among producers, managers, workers, and consumers.
Click on the titles below to explore different sections of the exhibition!
The early history of the United States was a time of market revolution. The economy moved away from a colonial mercantile system where raw products were shipped abroad and finished goods were imported. Increasingly artisans, peddlers, farmers, merchants, and slaves operated within a largely community based world.
The industrial revolution, business consolidation, and expansion brought widespread economic growth, innovation, and entrepreneurship to the United States. This period also saw turbulence in the form of wars, financial panics, and labor/management confrontations.
In the decades after World War II, production boomed and consumption became the primary engine of the American marketplace. Several factors fueled prosperity and opportunity at midcentury: diminished global competition, high rates of union membership, Cold War spending, and expanded consumer credit.
The recent history of the United States is yet another time of economic turbulence and change. The velocity of business increased as transportation, communication, and data analysis empowered global commerce like never before. Trade and financial connections that transcend national boundaries are fundamental to the new era.
Stories of people are key to understanding business and the American experience. They provide insight into the opportunities and challenges faced by individuals in all eras, economic sectors, and ways of life.