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37 Pages

Build a Firm, Start Another: The Bromleys and Family Firm Entrepreneurship in the Philadelphia Region

From the mid-nineteenth century, industrial Philadelphia's prosperity centred on the elaboration of speciality manufacturing. Overlapping complexes of firms, especially in textiles, metalworking, and machinery, vitalised the city's neighbourhoods, employing a quarter of a million operatives by 1890 and sustaining an infrastructure of working-class home-ownership and commercial, financial and technical institutions. Linked by proximity, contract and collective activities, networks of flexible enterprises sent forth a striking diversity of intermediate and final goods crafted for style or precision. Still, the vagaries of market demand entailed that while hundreds of small and middle-sized companies thrived and expanded, thousands failed, scattering their founders and workers. In this process, an atypical minority of firms became immense, regionally or nationally prominent employers: Baldwin Locomotive, Disston Saw, Campbell Soup, or, in textiles, 1. & 1. Dobson and the Bromley carpet and lace mills. Among the textile operations, family ownership prevailed, and indeed was common elsewhere, as at Disston or Campbell. This essay offers the Bromleys' business chronicle, spanning five generations from the 1840s past the mid-twentieth century. Sketches of family business practice at Disston and Campbell follow the main discussion, providing contrasts that introduce a closing assessment of venues for research in American family business history.