Accumulating but still incomplete evidence indicates that the United States led the world in chartering business corporations after 1800. Making the corporate form increasingly available to entrepreneurs, more so than other countries did, is a potential reason why the United States two centuries ago became the world's most rapidly growing economy. This project creates a database of all early U.S. corporations formed in the years 1801-1860, including each corporation's vital statistics ranging from its name and birthplace to its authorized capitalization, number of directors, stockholder voting rules, and amendments thereto. It documents the U.S. lead in the development of the business corporation, and investigates the contribution of corporations to America's nineteenth century growth miracle.

The project database documents the extent and form of corporate entrepreneurship and governance in each part of the United States before the Civil War. It allows scholars, the principal investigators as well as others, to assess the role of entrepreneurs, managers, and the corporations they created and nurtured in the economic development process. It will also facilitate international and intra-national comparisons of the impact of different economic, financial, and legal systems on economic growth.

The project also lowers the transaction costs of business historians by providing them with a database containing the names of individual entrepreneurs who chartered new corporations. It also provides scholars and others with the first complete list of incorporated enterprises in the antebellum United States, and puts each corporation's vital statistics at their finger tips.

Students of corporate governance benefit from the study because the early United States was a laboratory of governance experimentation. The number of directors, stockholder voting rules, and other governance attributes varied considerably over time and place. Coupled with dividend records, governance best practices become discernible. Lessons long since lost may be re-learned, perhaps with implications for improving the governance of today's corporations.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Niloy Bose
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National Bureau of Economic Research Inc
United States
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