Free Books

At the American Business History Center, we continually seek new sources of information on business history.  We have put a lot of links to other history websites on our links page.

This week, we introduce our big selection of 125 free books in PDF form which you can download by clicking the links listed below.  We have scoured the web for interesting books and plan on continuing to add to this list.  Future additions will be listed below.

These resources are great ways to see where your grandparents worked, if a factory existed in your hometown, which company owned the factory, where the railroads ran, ads for art inspiration or marketing ideas, or just the pure joy of nostalgia.

To download any of the books, just click on the book link, which will take you to that book our dropbox account.  In the upper right corner, you will see a little down arrow in a box, as shown in the picture below.  Click on that arrow, and you will have the option to “Direct download” to your computer.  Let us know if you run into any issues!

These books have been gathered from Google Books and other sites.  They fall into four categories:

  • General business history books.  These tell the stories of various industries and the people who built them.  They include many of our favorites.
  • Magazines, both general business magazines like Forbes and trade magazines covering specific industries.  Most of the downloads are full volumes, usually six months’ worth of issues in one download.  These are especially wonderful for the old ads, but also include fascinating articles which give you a peek into the past.  The architecture magazines are particularly beautiful.
  • Reference books.  These are our favorites, critical to doing historical research.  Most of them are “stock market reference books” including The Manual of Statistics, Moody’s Manuals, and Poor’s Manuals.  Each volume includes complete financial statements for every publicly owned company, often covering several years of data.  We have also included several reference books on specific industries, including retailing, broadcasting, railroads, and manufacturing.
  • Government reports.  Most of these are Congressional hearings on big business.  The reports done on antitrust and “economic concentration” (monopoly and all that) often contain extensive data available nowhere else.  These reports usually include testimony by those on both sides of each debate.

At the bottom of the list, we have included a few very cool books on general history, including two British atlases and a book about the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition.

Some of the documents are 1,500 to 2,000 pages or more, so they may take a while to download, depending on your Internet speed.  Once you open a document in your PDF reader, you might have to wade through a few blank scans at the beginning of each book, and some of the scans are higher quality than others.  The Adobe PDF reader is available free here.

Our own favorites are marked with *****.  Let us know which of these categories you find most interesting, and we will focus our search for more books or magazines like them!

General Business History Books

75 Years of American Finance*****
This is a great old chart showing the ups and downs of the economy and stock markets through America’s earlier history.

Men Who are Making America 1917 BC Forbes*****
Millionaires and Kings of Enterprise 1901*****
Two wonderful books full of biographies of the most important and interesting business leaders at the time.

Forbes Epigrams 1922
More from BC Forbes, the founder of Forbes magazine.

The Truth about the Trusts John Moody*****
John Moody, the founder of Moody’s Manuals, was one of the first people to look hard at big companies other than railroads.  The great trusts of the 1890s represented the first of the three big merger eras in American business history, the others being the roaring 1920s and the conglomerate era of the 1960s.  In this awesome book, Moody goes through each of the trusts – even the tin can and thread trusts – listing all the companies that were merged, as Wall Street financiers tried to monopolize industries, often unsuccessfully.  A treasure trove.

One Hundred Years of American Commerce 1795 to 1895*****
One of our all-time favorite books, full of illustrations.  An expert from each industry wrote an article on that industry, all edited by Chauncey Depew, Cornelius Vanderbilt’s attorney, President of the New York Central Railroad, and Senator from New York.

History of Manufactures in the United States 1607 to 1860 Clark*****
The first of three volumes but the only one we could find online.  Excellent, detailed histories of each industry, often describing the key companies and their founders.

Industrial History of the United States 1879 Bolles*****
Great Industries of the United States 1874*****
Industrial History of the United States 1917 Coman
Industrial History of the United States 1923 Cowdrick
More gems along the same lines as the previous two.

General Business Magazines

Financial World 1915
Forbes 1924
Moody’s Magazine 1911
System Magazine 1920
System Magazine 1922
Along with Forbes, the top business magazine of the early 20th century was System, later renamed Business Week.

Architecture Magazines

These are particularly beautiful, with great ads and articles.  They include articles and ads about impressive hotels, theaters, and many other building types.

Architecture and Building 1920
Architecture and Building 1927
Pencil Points 1924
American Architect 1924
American Architect 1919
American Architect 1907

Industry Trade Magazines

American Stationer and Office Outfitter 1923
All about office supplies and furniture – before the computer!

Automotive Industries 1921
Automotive Industries 1923
Motor 1940
Motor Age 1939
Some wonderful ads and pictures about cars and their parts.

Dry Goods Economist 1922
Dry Goods Economist Advertising Ideas 1924
Dry Goods Reporter 1916
Dry Goods Reporter first half 1914
Dry Goods Reporter second half 1914
Chain Store Age 1941
We love the history of retailing!  “Dry Goods store” was the original term for a department store.  See all about the big new Marshall Field store in downtown Chicago! 
Printers Ink 1914*****
Printers Ink is included here because this volume contains the first census of all the chain store companies in America; just search on the author “Zimmerman” inside the Printers Ink PDF.

American News Trade Journal 1924
Distributed to all the newsstands in America by the giant magazine and newspaper wholesaler and train station newsstand operator, the American News Company.

Railway Age 1899
Railway Age 1917
Railway Age 1948
Trains, trains, trains!

Iron Age 1921
And a little bit of steel.

Reference Books: Specific Industries

Hendricks Commercial Register 1891
Thomas Register of American Manufacturers 1905*****
Outstanding lists of all the factories in America, organized by the products they produced or sold.

Sheldon’s Retail Trade 1888*****
Look up which department stores your great-grandparents shopped, organized by city!

American Carriage and Wagon Trades Directory 1903
Drug Catalog for Drugstores 1932
Planning the New Hotel 1924
Iron Age Directory 1906

McGraw Electric Railway Manual 1903
All the amazing electric railroads that served America, including high speed “Interurban” lines between the cities.

Official Guide of the Railways 1912*****
Official Railway Guide 1882*****
Official Railway Guide 1898*****
This wonderful monthly publication listed all the railroads in America, with maps of their routes and complete timetables.  Every frequent traveler and every depot had a copy.  1882 was relatively early in the expansion of the US rail system; it was pretty much complete by 1912, with American rail mileage peaking around 1917.

Moving Picture Annual and Yearbook 1912
Very early in the industry; a great book.

TV Factbook 1957
TV Factbook 1968
TV Factbook 1970 1971
1967 Television Factbook
1990 Broadcasting Yearbook
Broadcasting Yearbook 1935
Broadcasting Yearbook 1995
Broadcasting Yearbook 2000
Broadcasting Yearbook 2005
Broadcasting Yearbook 2008
Telecasting Yearbook 1954 1955
Telecasting Yearbook 1955 1956
Telecasting Yearbook 1957 1958
A goldmine for anyone interested in old TV shows, the stations, and networks, full of ads.  Primarily from the wonderful website https://worldradiohistory.com/.

General Business Reference Books

Crain’s Market Data and Directory 1923*****
Packed with data and lists of magazines and other information sources on every industry.

ALL of the following reference books get ***** from us researchers!

Henry Poor was the first man to consolidate information on companies, beginning with railroads in the 1860s.  His books were full of maps and incredibly detailed information about every railroad, who owned it, and on and on.  Then, by 1900, other companies (“industrials”) began to sell shares to the public, though the markets were still dominated by the railroads. 

The Manual of Statistics was an early annual book that began to compile the data beyond railroads, but John Moody took it to another level with his first volume in 1900, included here.  Moody’s later broke its fat books – up to 3000 pages long – into separate volumes on railroads (or transportation), industrials, utilities (including telephone companies), banks and finance (including real estate and hotels), and government and municipal securities.  We have tried to include examples of each. 

It is great fun to look up some old company, then browse through the surrounding pages to discover interesting companies you never heard of!

Manual of Statistics 1890
Manual of Statistics 1899
Manual of Statistics 1897
Manual of Statistics 1898
Manual of Statistics 1901
Manual of Statistics 1903
Manual of Statistics 1905
Manual of Statistics 1908
Manual of Statistics 1909
Manual of Statistics 1910
Manual of Statistics 1912
Manual of Statistics 1913
Manual of Statistics 1915
Manual of Statistics 1917
Manual of Statistics 1920

Poor’s Railroads 1868 1869*****
Poor’s Railroads 1894
Poor’s Railroads 1921
Poor’s Industrials 1916
Poor’s Industrials 1917
Poor’s Utilities 1914

Moody’s Manual 1900*****
Moody’s Manual 1904
Moody’s Railroads and Industrials 1904
Moody’s Investment Survey 1920
Moody’s Industrials Manual 1921
Moody’s Railroads 1914
Moody’s Railroads 1918
Moody’s Railroads Manual 1922
Moody’s Utilities 1920
Moody’s Governments and Municipals Manual 1924
Moody’s Finance Manual 1944

Government Documents and Congressional Hearings on Big Business

Report on Motor Vehicle Industry 1940*****
This is the best source for information on the revenues and profits of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler in their early years.  Ford did not sell stock until the 1950s, after Henry Ford died, so this information is hard to find anywhere else.

The Structure of the American Economy 1939*****
This great book has lists of the largest companies in America at the time, plus lots of other great data.

Concentration Hearings Conglomerates 1970
Mergers and Concentration Conglomerates 1979
Plenty of details on the big conglomerates that arose in the 1960s.

Chain Store Investigation 1935*****
One of the most thorough studies of retail chains.

Look through these to find industries of interest to you:

Food Marketing Inquiry: Retailing
Food Marketing Inquiry: Frozen Juice Fruit and Vegetables Industries
Food Marketing Inquiry: Canned Juice Fruit and Vegetables Industries
Investigation of Concentration of Economic Power Building Materials Industry
Report of the Industrial Commission 1902
Investigation of Concentration Life Insurance Industry 1939
Investigation of Concentration of Economic Power Final Report 1941
Centralization of Heavy Industry Hearings 1944
Airline Industry Hearings 1957
Discount Retailing Government Bibliography 1960s
Automobile Industry Hearings 1969
Competition in Defense Procurement Hearings 1969
Energy Industry Investigation 1974
Federal Trade Commission Decisions second half 1975
Railroad Mergers Hearings 1979

BONUS: General History Books!

A Week at the Fair 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition*****
Published by the great Chicago publisher and printer Rand McNally.  Fully illustrated.

Wacker’s Manual of the Plan of Chicago 1916*****
In 1909, the great architect and city planner Daniel Burnham created a remarkable plan for the City of Chicago, some of which changed the look of the city in the following decades.  His associate Wacker created this shorter summary of the plan.  Wacker’s Manual was distributed to school children, businesspeople, and other citizens throughout Chicago to generate support and enthusiasm for the plan.

Pitman’s Commercial Atlas of the World 1910s*****
Statistical Atlas of Commercial Geography (British) 1887

Statistical Abstract 1900
Statistical Abstract 1929
Statistical Abstract 1935
Statistical Abstract 1951
The Statistical Abstract of the United States was published by the federal government for over one hundred years, until budget cuts killed it in the 21st century.  It is now published by the Bernan Press in a much more expensive version.  There is NO BOOK with as much data on America, covering every aspect of our nation. 

HAPPY READING!

Gary Hoover

Executive Director

American Business History Center

Support Us

You can also support the American Business History Center through the Amazon Smile program, which will give us 0.5% of the value of your purchases on Amazon without costing you anything additional.

Click to support us.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Sign up for business history stories and news from the American Business History Center.

You have Successfully Subscribed!