Archival Follies, Beginning the "Businessman", Our Glorious National Heritage

Welcome to the Business Parade

Or, A Grand and Imposing Branding Opportunity 

#BizManBook Research Note #5

“When I was a young boy, my father
Took me into the city to see a marching band…”

On February 22, 1864, Harvey Gridley Eastman, founder, president, and proprietor of his namesake business college in Poughkeepsie, NY, threw a business parade. 

Technically, it was just “a parade” – he footed the bill for an expansive, city-wide celebration of George Washington’s birthday. A public spirited sort, at least when it came to associating his name with winning causes, Eastman likely calculated that a patriotic celebration in the waning days of a war where Union victory looked increasingly certain was a win-win proposition, for both his private enterprise (Eastman College) and the Republic for whose business world it stood ready to supply with clerks. 

Putting a corps of his students hailing from “every loyal state” on display to wave the flag was certainly good advertising, at least in New York – and gave Eastman chance to claim to rival the “honored festivities” of a similar nature that Yale and Harvard had recently observed.

The parade followed what was by then a standard script. There were invited guest of honor, local dignitaries, and faculty members on hand to fill leading carriages and add dignity to the proceedings; while a grand “corps d’arme”of Eastman students marched formed the primary body of the parade, marching in time to the “Cornet Band of the College” brassily sounding patriotic tunes in bright new blue uniforms. There were floats with brave Union officers and wounded veterans, and some regimental bands, too. Patriotic animals got in the act, too: reporters made note of how the parade included dozens of “spirited horses” – including Prof. Eastman’s “elegant black team,” turned out with “silk flags” and “gold plated harness” (the latter ornaments all gifts from grateful, successful alumni).

Crowds of Poughkeepsie citizens, supplemented by “hundreds from the country and towns,” provided a cheering audience for all this pomp and circumstance as it wound through the downtown streets, and past the College’s campus. Some in the multitude shouted huzzahs for Washington, alone; others, ecumenically anticipating future car dealer’s sales, hoorayed for Lincoln and Washington as presidents together; and one onlooker, confused but supporting the right side at least, clapped and hooted all honors to General Grant. 

The city’s “fair maidens,” meanwhile, waved handkerchiefs from “windows, verandahs, stoops, and side walks” – a sign, perhaps, that they favored Eastman’s humble clerks over those “to the manor born. Even the “ladies” of Vassar College, normally secluded on their hill, graced the town with their presence and “honored the procession with smiles.” 

The parade, and its encore events – a reading of Washington’s “Farewell Address” and a closing torchlight march – was a big hit, “a great success in every sense of the word.”

No slouch, Eastman immediately put the event to work for the cause of “practical, popular education,” generally, and his proprietary brand, specifically, inviting press from local and metropolitan newspapers to report on the event, and republishing an official account in pamphlet form.


Now, the infusion of George Washington’s commemoration and public memory with the public performance of a “business man’s” identity is a longstanding interest of mine, so for me this whole affair is as much catnip, as you might expect.   

But! What moved me to write it up was not the founding father appropriation, but rather the what Eastman students carried. As they marched along Poughkeepsie’s streets, witnessed by thousands of people, the students hoisted seventeen double-sided banners, with mottos and aphorisms inscribed on each side. 

They started off fairly on-brand: an announcement of what the parade was about (George Washington’s birthday), the college’s name and motto, and some key facts and figures from Eastman’s catalogue. 

Then came some more pointed comparison to Ivy League upstarts, a celebration of the students shift from business to war, and praise for “their” president.

The next half-dozen banners shifted gears into pure aphorism territory – a familiar for Eastman and his employees, who bedecked the margins of all the college’s print ads and the halls of the college itself with seemingly-random words of instruction and encouragement. (Though backside of banner number 9 – “Big thing on the Yankee Schoolmaster” – ventures into more… vernacular assertions of masculine pride.)

Then the banners trend to more boring graphics indicating education and patriotism …

… before winding up with a frankly odd, but striking trio.

No. 15 is baffling (“Opportunity has hair in front, behind she is bald”), while No. 16 reminds everyone of who the important daddies in American politics are, before No. 17 ends the celebration with some solid perfectionist theology metaphors. 

And that’s how Harvey Gridley Eastman welcomed you to the business parade.

Header image, generated by DALL*E (AI) with the phrase “A parade of chibi emo businessmen carrying american flags”  

Source: Grand and Imposing Celebration of 22d February, 1864 in Commemoration of George Washington by the Students of Eastman National Business College (Poughkeepsie, NY: Telegraph Press, 1864),

Beginning the "Businessman", Our Glorious National Heritage

Many Historians, One Myth

Or, How Many Beards (er, Ritters) Does It Take to Make George Washington a Businessman?

#BizManBook Research Note #3

A crowd of bearded white men, wearing black hats and holding american flags. (AI art created via DALL-E)

I mentioned in my last post that many of the arguments Sol Bloom’s arguments in his essay “Washington the Businessman” were first published – at enormous and tedious length – in Halsted Lockwood Ritter’s book, Washington as a Business Man (New York: Sears Publishing Company, Inc., 1931).[1]    

Ritter is a curious figure. His moonlighting as an early national historian is not his greatest claim to fame – not by a long shot. An Indiana boy who moved to Miami to make money as a Republican lawyer, he found his way into the judiciary via an appointment from the businessman’s president, Calvin Coolidge. Ritter’s time on the bench was notable for the expanse and creativity of his graft and corruption. His corruption stunk badly enough that he managed to make himself the fourth person to ever be successfully removed from office through impeachment – the Senate convicted him in 1936 of “bringing the judiciary into disrepute.” (Can you imagine? How quaint!)

But he’s also notable for another coincidence, a bit closer to my historiographical heart. Halsted Ritter was the brother of Mary Ritter Beard. Yes, that Mary Ritter Beard: prolific Progressive historian, and partner to the similarly productive Charles Austin Beard – who famously argued in An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States that the framers were a cabal of anti-democratic capitalists, and the Constitution their effort to put property over people. 

Even more interesting, the first historian to attempt to write a history of “the business man” was Miriam Beard – Mary and Charles’s daughter, and Halsted’s niece.[2] And how did Miriam Beard think about Washington’s connection to business? Well, pretty much in the same way her uncle and parents did:

It seems possible that the extended Ritter-Beard clan might be responsible for shifting public understanding of Washington, and other founders – and in the process also elevating the “businessman” to the status of main character in American history. Something of an irony, given the Progressive politics of many of the family’s members…

[1] Sol Bloom, “Washington the Business Man,” in Honor to George Washington and Reading about George Washington, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (Washington, D.C.: United States George Washington Bicentennial Commission, 1932), 131-45. Note, however that Ritter’s earlier publication does not necessarily mean he originated these ideas, or this argument; Bloom had been working on the Bicentennial Commission since the mid-1920s, it’s entirely possible he had come to his conclusions earlier, had prior communication with Ritter, or even that the two collaborated. More research will tell…

[2] Miriam Beard, A History of the Business Man (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1938).

Beginning the "Businessman", Our Glorious National Heritage

George Washington, Businessman?

Or, Why did an 18th-century planter become a load-bearing symbol for the New Deal?

#BizManBook Research Note #2

Photorealistic portrait of George Washington, dressed in a modern business suit and standing in front of an American flag. Citation: redditKingBaboon97, “I Created a Photorealistic Image of George Washington If He Lived in the Present Day.,” Reddit Post, R/Interestingasfuck, May 2, 2021,
redditKingBaboon97, “I Created a Photorealistic Image of George Washington If He Lived in the Present Day.,” Reddit Post, R/Interestingasfuck, May 2, 2021,

In 1932, the Hon. Sol Bloom (D-NY) staked a bold claim on the public reputation of George Washington. Director of the U.S. George Washington Bicentennial Commission, the experienced Congressman declared Washington a “business man,” par excellence. In a prominent essay, Bloom argued that the father of the nation was not just a brave soldier or a steady statesman.  Rather, he was a “remarkable man of affairs” whose qualities as a “practical modern spirit” lay behind his success as a public man. A modern businessman’s mastery of system and detail proved the critical factor in Washington’s success on the battlefield and in the halls of power, Bloom claimed; a genius for business was what made Washington “the most successful American of his century.”[1]

The first page of Sol Bloom's essay, "Washington the Business Man." It contains text an an image of Gilbert Sullivan's portrait of George Washington: he is standing, hand on a table, in a black coat.

As you might imagine, contorting the nation’s favorite hero into a businessman during the nadir of the Great Depression took some effort. Bloom didn’t do it alone; his article was developed in conversation with other historians and scholars, and together they built a case step by step. Bloom and his collaborators went over Washington’s early life to make the case that the provincial Virginian’s experiences with credit and debt instilled a worldly financial acumen – and then ransacked his rough and rarely balanced ledgers to demonstrate Washington’s capacity for analytical bookkeeping. Drawing on correspondence and diaries, they argued Washington carefully optimized his workforce, using different methods to “drive” his laborers, both enslaved and free, toward greater efficiencies. Finally, they integrated Washington’s activities as a real estate promoter and experimental planter into his presidential political agenda. The General’s prophetic vision for a westward-expanding nation – and thus, American greatness – was rooted in his experience as a “business organizer” seeking to enhance land sales through infrastructural development.[2]

The work didn’t end with the evidence. Bloom’s essay was tip of an iceberg of public addresses, research monographs, curricular plans, and radio programs that aimed to redefine Washington for a new era. The publications and presentation created or directed by the Bicentennial Commission were legion – Bloom claimed  “4,760,345 separate and distinct programs” over the course of nine months celebration – and a significant portion explicitly described Washington’s business acumen.[3] And they inspired many, many more.[4]

In Washington, Bloom and his collaborators found – or rather, made – a prototypical businessman, one who happened to exhibit exactly the kind of genius (and public spirit) that the early 20th-century entrepreneurial elite claimed for itself. The question is: why? Why would busy public officials spend federal resources – and invest immense amounts of personal time – to promote a new understanding of a remarkable eighteenth-century gentleman planter as a conventional contemporary business man? And why do it during the greatest crisis capitalism had yet produced? 

I’m not sure yet. Bloom’s own biography provides some clues: born in Illinois to a family of immigrant Polish Jews, he made his fortune as an impresario and then publisher in the music industry, before going big-time in NYC as a music store magnate and real estate developer; the entrepreneurial ethos was part of his own story. But while that’s perhaps necessary background, it’s not sufficient – particularly given the reaction that Bloom received for this work.

In his own time, Bloom’s work appears to have been both publicly persuasive and important to the cause of New Deal liberalism. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one of many who wrote to congratulate Bloom on the Bicentennial Commission’s successes, lauded him for going beyond a “mere demonstration of memorial fervor” and creating “an immortal legacy in the form of historical facts” that “future historians and scholars may rely upon.” Bloom’s work had “reached deep into the hearts of the people,” FDR noted, “and revived in them fundamental reasons for pride of country and faith in its system of government.”[5] 

Given this, it seems important to figure out how and why accounting George Washington as a businessman came to do such critical work in restoring faith in the American system in a moment when it faced an unprecedented crisis. 

I’ll let you know how it goes…

[1] Sol Bloom, “Washington the Business Man,” in Honor to George Washington and Reading about George Washington, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (Washington, D.C.: United States George Washington Bicentennial Commission, 1932), 131

[2] Sol Bloom, “Washington the Business Man,” 131–45. Though reproduced widely throughout Bicentennial Commission productions, the arguments in Bloom’s essay appear to have been published first – and at much greater length – in Halsted Lockwood Ritter, Washington as a Business Man (New York: Sears Publishing Company, Inc., 1931). Historian Albert Bushnell Hart, Bloom’s collaborator on the U.S. George Washington Bicentennial Commission, also summarized these points in an address to the Business History Society in which he nominated Washington for an honorary, posthumous membership. Albert Bushnell Hart, “George Washington as a Business Man,” Bulletin of the Business Historical Society 5, no. 1 (1931): 14–17. These publications are close enough together – and close enough to the large effort of the Bicentennial Commission – that it is as-yet unclear who originated this argument, and under what circumstances.

[3] Sol Bloom, “Preface,” Activities of the Commission and Complete-Final Report of the United States George Washington Bicentennial Commission(Washington, D.C.: United States George Washington Bicentennial Commission, 1932), xii.

[4] Subsequent biographers of Washington have repeated and ratified these claims. E.g., James Thomas Flexner, George Washington, 4 vols. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1965), John Berlau, George Washington, Entrepreneur: How Our Founding Father’s Private Business Pursuits Changed America and the World (New York: All Points Books, 2020).

[5] Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Sol Bloom, December 29, 1933, in Sol Bloom Papers, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library, Box 61, Folder R.

Archival Follies, Knowledge Droppings, Now in Actual Work, Our Glorious National Heritage

Such Phrenology. So Railroad. Wow.

Or, Meme Translation

Asa Whitney Doge

Today I found a portrait and detailed profile of one of the characters I’m currently writing about in the American Phrenological Journal.

Yes folks, in November 1849, Asa Whitney, railroad projector and lobbyist for humanity, was not only the man of the hour and talk of the town, but also the cover model for America’s leading pseudoscientific periodical. Reading what the nation’s foremost experts in head-bumps and skull-shapes had provided to the interested public concerning the former China merchant, it occurred to me that the phrenologist’s analysis might very easily be stripped of its Victorian vagaries, and translated into a jargon with more currency today; that is, into doge speak. Thus, the above.

(Also, per Gary Larson, it was late and I was tired).

Full cite (incl. original image):

“Article LXXI: Phrenological Character of Asa Whitney, with a Likeness,” American Phrenological Journal 11, no. 11 (November 1, 1849): 329–333.