Alfred D. Chandler, Jr.

Alfred D. Chandler, Jr. bigraphy, stories - Historians

Alfred D. Chandler, Jr. : biography

September 15, 1918 – May 9, 2007

Alfred DuPont Chandler, Jr. (September 15, 1918 – May 9, 2007) was a professor of business history at Harvard Business School and Johns Hopkins University, who wrote extensively about the scale and the management structures of modern corporations. His works redefined business and economic history of industrialization. He received the Pulitzer Prize for History for his work, The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business (1977).

The Visible Hand

Chandler’s masterwork was The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business (1977). His first two chapters looked at traditional owner-operated small business operations in commerce and production, including the largest among them, the slave plantations in the South. Chapters 3-5 summarize the history of railroad management, with stress on innovations not just in technology but also in accounting, finance and statistics. He then turned to the new business operations made possible by the rail system in mass distribution, such as jobbers, department stores and mail order. A quick survey (ch 8) review mass innovation in mass production.The integration of mass distribution and mass production (ch 9-11) led to many mergers and the emergence of giant industrial corporations by 1900. Management for Chandler was much more than the CEO, it was the whole system of techniques and included middle management (ch 11) as well as the corporate structure of the biggest firms, Standard Oil, General Electric, US Steel, and DuPont (ch 13-14). Chandler argued that modern large-scale firms arose to take advantage of the national markets and productive techniques available after the rail network was in place. He found that they prospered because they had higher productivity, lower costs, and higher profits. The firms created the "managerial class" in America because they needed to coordinate the increasingly complex and interdependent system. According to Steven Usselman, this ability to achieve efficiency through coordination, and not some anti-competitive monopolistic greed by robber barons, explained the high levels of concentration in modern American industry.Steven W. Usselman, "Still Visible: Alfred D. Chandler’s The Visible Hand," Technology and Culture 47, no. 3 (2006), 584-596.


Chandler used the papers of his ancestor Henry Varnum Poor, a leading analyst of the railway industry, the publisher of the American Railroad Journal, and a founder of Standard & Poor’s, as a basis for his Ph.D. thesis.

Chandler began looking at large-scale enterprise in the early 1960s. His book Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the Industrial Enterprise (1962) examined the organization of E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, Standard Oil of New Jersey, General Motors, and Sears, Roebuck and Co. He found that managerial organization developed in response to the corporation’s business strategy. The book was voted the eleventh most influential management book of the 20th century in a poll of the Fellows of the Academy of Management.

This emphasis on the importance of a cadre of managers to organize and run large-scale corporations was expanded into a "managerial revolution" in The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business (1977) for which he received a Pulitzer Prize. He pursued that book’s themes further in Scale and Scope: The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism, (1990) and co-edited an anthology on the same themes, with Franco Amatori and Takashi Hikino, Big Business and the Wealth of Nations (1997).

Family & Life

Chandler was the great-grandson of Henry Varnum Poor. "Du Pont" was apparently a family name given to his grandfather because his great-grandmother was raised by the Du Pont family, and there are other connections as well.Carol May, "," Edmund’s Community Courier (), March 2, 2010.

Chandler graduated from Harvard College in 1940. After wartime service in the navy he returned to Harvard to get his Ph.D. in History under the direction of Frederick Merk. He taught at M.I.T. and Johns Hopkins University before arriving at Harvard Business School in 1970.