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Mss:791 1831-1990 D897

Dun & Bradstreet Corporation Records, 1831-1990 (inclusive); 1850-1950 (bulk): A Finding Aid

Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University

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Harvard Business School, Boston MA 02163.

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: Mss:791 1831-1990 D897
Repository: Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University
Creator: Dun & Bradstreet, Inc.
Title: Dun & Bradstreet Corporation records
Date(s): 1831-1990 (inclusive)
Quantity: 62 linear feet (60 volumes, 61 boxes, 2 cartons)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: Historical business records of the credit reporting agency known as R.G. Dun & Company. The company became the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation after the merger of R.G. Dun & Co. and J.M. Bradstreet & Company in 1933. Records include correspondence, photographs, legal, financial, and administrative material pertaining to the company.

Provenance:

Gift of Dun & Bradstreet, Inc., 2003.

Processing Information:

Processed: December 2009
By: Benjamin Johnson

Conditions Governing Access:

Appointment necessary to consult collection.

Preferred Citation:

Cite as: Dun & Bradstreet Corporation Records. Baker Library Historical Collections. Harvard Business School.

Related Materials

Also located at Baker Library Historical Collections is the R.G. Dun & Co. collection which consists of 2,580 volumes of credit ledger volumes that contain a wealth of business history information on hundreds of American communities during the period 1841-1892. The R.G. Dun & Company credit report volumes finding aid can be found online. The R.G. Dun & Co. records were given to Baker Library in 1952 and are a different collection then the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation Collection. The Dun & Bradstreet historical material provides additional background information about the company which augments the credit ledger volumes.

Historical Note:

When Lewis Tappan founded the Mercantile Agency in 1841, he believed that his new venture could standardize the flow of credit in the United States. From his own experience as a merchant, Tappan saw the need for a professionally-managed credit system, with credit decisions based upon sound information. During the first half of the 19th century, wholesale commission merchants based in the large urban cities were increasingly providing goods and supplies to rural merchants, jobbers, and general stores located miles away in the interior of the country. The wholesale commission merchants indiscriminately extended credit to country merchants and jobbers. They rarely had a choice, because sound information about credit-worthiness was hard to come by and frequently inaccurate. Tappan believed that if this information could be centralized, then the flow of credit would become more efficient. This would alleviate the problems of the urban commission merchants and provide more flexibility for honest and hard-working jobbers and country store merchants.
Tappan soon established a network of local correspondents, who gathered and reported business information on merchants and jobbers in their area. Twice a year, the correspondents sent their reports to the Mercantile Agency's headquarters in New York City, where clerks recorded the information into large ledger books. The correspondents were expected to report on a potential borrower's trade style, capital, present location and length of residence, and what medium they operated on most frequently. The agency's correspondents were typically lawyers who lived in the area they covered, and Tappan expected them to be men of high moral standing in their communities. The correspondents were not compensated directly by the Mercantile Agency, instead they were granted exclusive rights to collect the debts owed to Tappan's subscribers. The agency sold its credit information to subscribers for a fee. The subscription fee was tiered based upon the subscriber's annual earnings. By 1843, Lewis Tappan had over one hundred and fifty correspondents in the northeast.
Tappan realized that, in order to hold off its competitors, the agency would need to expand quickly to the west and south. In 1849, Tappan turned control of the Mercantile Agency over to Benjamin Douglass, one of his clerks. Douglass's past business experience as a cotton trader working in the south and the Mississippi Valley would be an immense help to the agency's expansion. After Lewis Tappan retired in 1849, his brother Arthur Tappan ran the firm in partnership with Douglass. Arthur sold his share of the firm to Benjamin Douglass in 1854.
During the mid-19th century, commerce in the United States continued to grow, and so the number of businesses that the Mercantile Agency needed to track also increased dramatically. Benjamin Douglass opened offices in important U. S. cities such as Chicago, St. Louis, and New Orleans, and internationally in London and Montreal. Douglass expanded the agency's coverage into the banking, fire insurance, and manufacturing industries. Douglass enacted a direct mail list for subscribers and also published the agency's first Reference Book. Subscribers no longer had to visit the Mercantile Agency's offices in person; instead credit information was published in the Reference Book or the reports were mailed to subscribers. He also began recording business statistics.
In 1859 Benjamin Douglass turned over the Agency to his brother-in-law, Robert Graham Dun. Dun renamed the company R.G. Dun & Company. Douglass had married Dun's sister, Elizabeth, and Dun subsequently married Douglass's sister, also named Elizabeth. The company published its first credit reporting volume, the Dun Book, in 1859. The agency grew substantially under R.G. Dun's leadership during the second half of the 19th century. Dun slowly replaced the network of local correspondents with professional reporters. Dun also introduced the typewriter in an effort to streamline the information gathering and publication process. By the 1890s, R.G. Dun slowly relinquished control of the company to his nephew Robert Dun Douglass (Benjamin Douglass's son). R. G. Dun continued to play a strong role in his namesake firm until his death in 1900, but he was no longer involved in the day-to-day operations.
R.G. Dun & Company had many competitors during the 19th century, but the strongest was John M. Bradstreet & Sons Improved Mercantile and Law Agency for Cities. Founded in 1849 in Cincinnati, Ohio by John M. Bradstreet, it was R.G. Dun & Co.'s major rival. In 1851, Bradstreet published the first commercial credit rating book. He found a niche market by sending information to his subscribers, rather than requiring that they come to his office. In 1855, Bradstreet relocated his company from Ohio to New York City. He provided a rating key to credit worthiness of merchants in cities, which was a departure from R.G. Dun's focus on country merchants and jobbers. This new conduit for disseminating information changed credit reporting. R. G. Dun & Co.'s aggressive expansion efforts were partly in response to the threat perceived from this rival. However, in the long run, J. M. Bradstreet & Company could not compete with Dun's vast network. John M. Bradstreet died in 1863 and was succeeded by his son Henry.
The two firms continued to grow during the first decades of the twentieth century. In 1930, R.G. Dun & Co. merged with the National Credit Office, a credit reporting service focused on the health of industries as a whole. Arthur Dare Whiteside of the National Credit Office became chief executive officer of the new company. The Great Depression was then at its height when the companies merged in 1933 to become Dun & Bradstreet Corporation. The merger probably saved both companies from failure. Both firms offered similar services, so their merger was expected to result in greater resources provided to customers. Under Whiteside's leadership, Dun & Bradstreet Corp. moved from selling products to customers to providing services for customers. This service allowed customers to monitor their own accounts, while also modernizing the credit reporting industry.

Chronology

Bibliography

The Dun & Bradstreet Corporation. Dun & Bradstreet and the Rise of Modern Business. New York: The Dun & Bradstreet Corporation, Corporate Communications Department, 1991. James D. Norris. R.G. Dun & Co., 1841-1900. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1978. Rowena Olegario. A Culture of Credit. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006.

Series Outline

The collection is arranged in the following series:

Scope and Content Note:

The Dun & Bradstreet collection contains a vast array of material that documents the history and evolution of the company. The collection is arranged into six series: Series I. The Mercantile Agency and B. Douglass & Co., Series II. R.G. Dun & Co., Series III. J.M. Bradstreet & Company, Series IV. Dun & Bradstreet, Series V. Robert Graham Dun personal material, and Series VI. Audio/Visual material. The reason for this arrangement is to keep material relating to each iteration of the firm separate and easily discoverable. R.G. Dun began working for the Mercantile Agency in 1854 and later acquired sole ownership of the company in 1859. He purchased the remaining shares of the company from his brother-in-law, Benjamin Douglass. The material in the collection includes historical information of The Mercantile Agency. The information provided can be used in conjunction with the existing collection, R.G. Dun & Company Collection of credit ledger volumes held by Baker Library Historical Collections.
Series I contains material relating to the founding and early years of the Mercantile Agency and B. Douglass & Co. and the roles of Lewis and Arthur Tappan and Benjamin Douglass. This material consists of legal material, financial material, and administrative records dating from 1831 to 1860.
Series II includes material relating to R.G. Dun & Co. and includes correspondence, financial records, administrative records, and legal material relating to the firm from 1841 to 1933 with the bulk of the material from 1860 to 1900. Robert Graham Dun ran the Mercantile Agency under the name R.G. Dun & Co. from 1859 to 1900 and the majority of the collection relates to the period of time under his leadership.
Series III documents J.M. Bradstreet & Company, R.G. Dun & Co.'s main rival, which was founded by John M. Bradstreet in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1849. The Bradstreet material includes correspondence, legal material, and financial records from 1853 to 1933. The bulk of this material concerns a libel suit filed by the PAF Manufacturing Company. The Bradstreet material makes up the smallest part of the collection; however, the records shed some light onto the policies and procedures of the company.
Series IV consists of financial records, administrative papers, and subject files concerning the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation created after the companies merged in 1933. The subject files were arranged by a corporate archivist and later kept in the company's public relations office. The subject files relate to all aspects of the company after the merger of R.G. Dun & Co. and J.M. Bradstreet & Company from 1833 to 1982. The bulk of the material in this series was created in the middle of the twentieth century.
Series V contains personal material kept by Robert Graham Dun from 1853 to 1912. This material includes correspondence, financial records, and detailed information relating to R.G. Dun's extensive silver mining operations in Colorado. The bulk of this material relates to his mining operations and includes correspondence, stock certificates, and legal material such as deeds, leases, and contracts.
The audio-visual material located in series VI contains photographs, slides, negatives, contact sheets, and film. The size and photographic process of the pictures varies.

Container List

Additional Index Terms

Business--Failures and losses.
Business enterprises.
Credit.
Credit bureaus--United States.
Credit ratings.
Finance--United States.
Libel and slander--United States.
Mining corporations--Colorado--Boulder County.
Mines and mineral resources--Colorado--Boulder County.
Silver mines and mining--Colorado--Boulder County.
Trials (Libel)--United States.
United States--Commerce.
Bradstreet, John M., d. 1863.
Douglass, Benjamin, b. 1816.
Dun, James Angus.
Dun, Robert Graham, 1826-1900.
Tappan, Arthur, 1786-1865.
Tappan, Lewis, 1788-1873.
B. Douglass & Company.
Bradstreet Company.
Caribou Consolidated Mining Company.
E. Russell & Company.
Mercantile Agency (New York, N.Y.).
R.G. Dun & Company.

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