Economic history books tend to be dry. Not so with Americana: A 400 Year History of American Capitalism. The author does a very good job of weaving threads of stories together to keep the narrative fast paced and interesting.
The story spans from the Mayflower in the 1600s through the iPhone in 2007. I previously posted the Mayflower story, as I hadn’t before seen details on how the oft-repeated history of the Pilgrims had left out the part of them being sweat-equity shareholders of the ill-fated for-profit Virginia Company.
Between that and the iPod and iPhone are dozens of other stories of equal surprise. John Sutter’s plan was to build a sawmill. He didn’t head up the American river looking for gold. Andrew Carnegie got his big break as a telegraph operator. Henry Ford’s comeback came in building a race car. The Great Depression was the second of its kind in the U.S.
Did you know that one of the triggers of The Great Depression was the collapse of The Bank of the United States? Despite its name it was neither the central bank of the country nor affiliated in any way with the Federal government, but most people didn’t know that, so when it failed, it caused bank runs at thousands of other banks and added to the financial panic.
Did you know that Intel, the giant semiconductor company, isn’t named after intelligent, but instead is a portmanteau of integrated electronics? Or that Rockefeller (specifically the family office of the oil heirs) invested in Intel, made a fortune, and used some of that to then invest in Apple? Or that Apple was able to go public in their third year after exceeding $100 million in sales that year? The Netflix would surpass that speed going public within a year on $40 million in sales, setting off the dot-com bubble?
I love the lost tidbits of economic history, the connections between founders and funders that usually get overlooked, and the way that history is much more of a woven braid of interconnected stories rather than standalone innovations. I thus thoroughly enjoyed Americana.