Guide to the Harold F. Williamson, Sr. (1901-1989) Papers

Collection Title: Harold F. Williamson, Sr. (1901-1989) Papers
Dates: 1926-1987
Identification: 11/3/10/12
Creator: Williamson, Harold F. (Harold Francis), 1901-1989
Extent: 7 Boxes
Language of Materials: English
Abstract: The papers of Harold F. Williamson, Sr. fill seven boxes, and span the years 1926 to 1987. They illustrate the process of writing business histories, from proposal to publication, and the teaching of economic history over six decades from the 1920's into the 1970's. These materials are divided into seven broad categories: biographical materials, education, correspondence, teaching files, speeches and presentations, associations and organizations, and publications.
Acquisition Information: The Harold F. Williamson, Sr. Papers comprise five accessions. Three accessions were donated by Harold F. Williamson, Sr: #79-222, received October 3, 1979; #84-124 received August 3, 1984; #85-27 received February 15, 1985. Additional materials found in Williamson's workroom were received March 14, 1994 as accession #94-38. Sam Williamson donated materials on March 24, 2004 in accession #04-45.
Processing Information: Janet Kerschner, November 2004.
Separated Materials: Twenty-three inches of duplicate and extraneous materials were discarded. Three audiocassettes were separated from accession #79-222, and a photograph of Williamson and one of Orange Smalley were separated to the University Archives Photographic Collection. Other separations included several papers returned to their authors or institutions.
Conditions Governing Access: Student papers are restricted and may only be accessed with the permission of the University Archivist.
Related Materials: Extensive information is available about the Liberia Project in Series 35/19, “Records of the Economic Survey of Liberia, 1956-1962.” Williamson's correspondence as Campus Coordinator for the project is in Box 2, Folders 2-7.The Curtis MacDougall Papers, Series 16/13, provide more information about MacDougall's politics in Box 2, Folder 2, entitled Political Campaigns.American Economic Association (AEA) records are in Special Collections.
Repository: Northwestern University Archives
Deering Library, Room 110
1970 Campus Dr.
Evanston, IL, 60208-2300
Phone: 847-491-3354

Biographical/Historical Information

Harold Francis Williamson, Sr. was a professor of American and European economic history, noted for his meticulous scholarship in writing business histories. Born March 21, 1901 in Piper, Kansas, he married Arline Hotchkiss on August 12, 1932. In a teaching career that spanned more than forty years, Williamson taught economic history at the University of Southern California, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Yale University. In 1948 he began a twenty-one year tenure as an economics professor at Northwestern University, from which he retired in 1969.

Williamson earned A.B. and M.A. degrees in economics at the University of Southern California in 1924 and 1926. Williamson received a second master's degree from Harvard University in 1930, followed by a doctorate in 1936. His dissertation subject was a biography of Edward Atkinson, a textile mill executive and conservative reformer.

In a teaching career that spanned more than forty years, Williamson taught economic history at the University of Southern California, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Yale University. In 1948 he began a twenty-one year tenure as an economics professor at Northwestern University. His lectures placed the developments of American and European economic history in technological, sociological, geographic, and political context, enlivened with many examples of technological developments. Upon his retirement in 1969, the Board of Trustees of Northwestern awarded him the title of Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus. In 1970 Williamson began an appointment as Senior Resident Scholar at Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation, Delaware, where he advised students in the fellowship program. He also taught an economic history seminar at the University of Delaware. The opportunity to record institutional history of Northwestern University on its 125th anniversary drew him back to Evanston in 1973, where he completed several writing projects before retiring in 1985 to Sarasota, Florida.

Writing histories of corporations, industries, and organizations was Williamson's specialty, demonstrated with notable skill in his books The American Carpet Manufacturers (with Arthur Cole, 1940), Winchester: The Gun That Won the West (1952), Designed for Digging: The First 75 Years of Bucyrus-Erie Company (with Kenneth Myers, 1955), Northwestern Mutual Life: A Century of Trusteeship (with Orange A. Smalley, 1959), and two volumes of The American Petroleum Industry (with Arnold Daum, 1959 and Ralph Andreano et al, 1964). Other major works included Edward Atkinson: Biography of an American Liberal (1935), The Growth of the American Economy (1941 and 1953), and Economic Development, Principles and Patterns (with John Buttrick, 1954). In later years, he completed Northwestern University: A History, 1850-1975 (with Payson S. Wild, 1976), edited Evolution of International Management Structures (1975), and then composed a final book about Northwestern, The Evolution of Management Education, a History of the J. L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management, 1908-1983 (with Michael W. Sedlak, 1983). Williamson also wrote dozens of articles for books, journals and encyclopedias, as well as book reviews, papers, and speeches on a wide range of topics.

Throughout his career, Williamson was very active in professional organizations. He served as secretary-treasurer of the American Economic Association (1963-1970), director of the National Bureau of Economic Research (1957-1964), member of the Council on Research in Economic History (1956-1964), editorial advisory board member of the Business History Review (1958-1964) and Explorations in Entrepreneurial History (1962-1970), president of the Economic History Association (1964-1966), and member of the National Archives Advisory Council (1968-1975). He was a founder of the Business History Conference in 1954, and served as its president (1972-1973). In addition to other activities, Williamson was a constant supporter and tireless advocate of Northwestern University Library and Archives.

Williamson was invited to speak at conferences and programs worldwide, presenting papers in Belfast, Toronto, and Leningrad. When Northwestern participated in a joint project with the International Cooperation Administration in 1960-61 to help the Liberian government develop an economic plan, Williamson served as coordinator and traveled to Africa. In 1965 he spent ten weeks touring Egypt, India, Japan, and other countries for the American Economic Association, with funding from the U. S. State Department and the Ford Foundation, to establish a program for screening foreign students. During the summer of 1971, he was a lecturer at the Kyoto American Studies Summer Seminar.

Colleagues and students recognized the excellence of Williamson's contributions to his academic discipline. In 1957, Williamson received an Award of Merit certificate from the State Historical Society of Wisconsin for his book Designed for Digging: The First 75 Years of Bucyrus-Erie Company. The Business History Conference established the Harold F. Williamson, Sr. Prize, to be awarded periodically “for outstanding service in the field of business history.” Former students honored Williamson in 1973 with a festschrift, a collection of essays on a wide range of economic topics written by colleagues. Entitled Business Enterprise and Economic Change, the volume was edited by Paul J. Uselding and Louis P. Cain, with a preface applauding “the gentle objectivity and sense of fair play that Harold Williamson always brought to each new situation.” In 1988, Fullerton Union High School inducted Williamson into its Wall of Fame, as a distinguished alumnus of the Class of 1920.

Williamson and his wife Arline retired to Sarasota, Florida in 1985, where he died on October 25, 1989. Arline subsequently moved to Urbana, Illinois and died July 19, 1994. Sons Harold F. Williamson, Jr. of Champaign, Illinois and Samuel H. Williamson of Oxford, Ohio both teach economics.

Scope and Content

The papers of Harold F. Williamson, Sr. fill seven boxes, and span the years 1926 to 1987. They illustrate the process of writing business histories, from proposal to publication, and the teaching of economic history over six decades from the 1920's into the 1970's. These materials are divided into seven broad categories: biographical materials, education, correspondence, teaching files, speeches and presentations, associations and organizations, and publications.

The largest subseries, teaching files, retains the topical arrangement that Williamson preferred, and is further subdivided into general topics, Europe and Great Britain, United States, and student papers. The lecture notes in these folders and in the education folders document in meticulous detail the teaching of economic history over several decades.

Correspondence with colleagues comprises another large portion of the papers. The warmth of these letters, and the effusive congratulatory notes the Williamson received upon his retirement, build a picture of the man's close friendships and personality that would otherwise not be represented. Little material exists from what must have been extensive correspondence with publishers and coauthors, and even less describes Northwestern University, its economics department, and faculty.

Williamson's vocation as a business historian was reflected in presentations, articles, proposals, notes, and memberships. The process of planning and writing business histories is demonstrated in “Time Capsules” in Box 7, Folder 4, and in proposals for Sears, the petroleum industry, and the Northwestern University Dental School (Box 7, Folders 6, 7, 10, 11). Correspondence with Chester Destler and David W. Lewis gives special insight into the relationships between businesses and their historians (Box 2, Folders 10 and 11). The Business History Foundation correspondence offers a glimpse into a difficult project (Box 6, Folder 14).

Papers from the 1940's are discolored and fragile; those from other decades are in better condition. Handwritten notes are clear and legible throughout. Materials are arranged chronologically unless otherwise noted.

Biographical Materials include several versions of his Curriculum Vitae, biographical sketches, obituaries for Harold Williamson and his wife Arline, and correspondence related to his teaching appointments. There are no complete lists or indexes of his published articles or of his speeches and presentations. The Honors and Awards folder includes press announcements, certificates, and correspondence.

Clippings include announcements of book publication, attendance at conferences, appointments and honors, and the 1960-61 Liberia trip. One clipping quotes an insightful speech at the Institute of World Affairs in St. Paul on the topic of American misconceptions about the economic development of “backward nations.” News Releases from Northwestern University, Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation, and other organizations announce publication of books, leaves of absence for research, and presentations.

The Education materials consist of legible handwritten notes. Some of the paper is fragile.

Williamson took meticulous notes during and after graduate school, when he attended lectures by eminent economists Edwin F. Gay and Abbott P. Usher.

Williamson engaged in extensive correspondence throughout his life with numerous colleagues, students, and friends. Many of the letters in the Correspondence files relate to requests to review books, letters of recommendation for academic positions, and arrangements for conferences. In the general and personal correspondence folders, letters are arranged chronologically, but the letters of recommendation (Box 2, Folder 3) are arranged alphabetically by the name of the candidate. Thirteen folders contain letters exchanged with individuals.

Teaching Files are arranged topically. Williamson typically retained several iterations of lecture notes in each of his topical files, spanning decades. Most are undated. Frequent notations of “BKU” refer to the text An Economic History of Europe Since 1750 by Witt Bowden, Michael Karpovich, and Abbott Payson Usher. Published in 1937 by American Book Company, this text was still being used in Williamson's classes in 1961, and was reprinted in 1970. Some teaching files include correspondence, articles by colleagues or newspaper clippings that Williamson found significant in preparing his lecture for a specific educational topic. Williamson also retained some papers written as assignments by his students at Harvard, Yale, and Northwestern.

Williamson frequently made speeches, but only a few are documented as proceedings or typescripts in the Speeches and Presentations folder. He is named in many conference programs as a presenter, moderator of a panel discussion, organizer, or master of ceremonies. The transcript of a 1947 Yale radio interview mentions the implications of atomic energy. A particularly interesting speech from 1932 discusses economic changes in the United States, trade barriers, the economic implications of changes to national boundaries in Europe after World War I, and the new position of the U.S. as a creditor nation. A major address to the Chicago Corral of Westerners International (a history club) was a recapitulation of Winchester: The Gun That Won the West. Williamson spoke to the American Marketing Association, the International Economic History Association, the Ulster-Scot Historical Foundation (concerning the history of Rand McNally and Company), and introduced John Kenneth Galbraith at the Conference on the Evolution of International Management Structures. One speech is a tribute to his friend and colleague Orange Smalley, who died in 1964. Lucid outlines exist from a series of ten lectures on economic history presented at the Kyoto American Studies Summer Seminar in 1971.

Materials filed under Associations and Organizations include correspondence, meeting minutes, and financial reports. The American Economic Association was very important to Williamson, and extensive correspondence describes his successful efforts to transfer organizational records from Nashville to Northwestern University Special Collections Department.

Papers related to Publications consist of correspondence, contracts, notes, drafts, proofs, reprints, photocopies of articles, and reviews. The publishers of two dictionaries and an encyclopedia requested articles on specific topics. Williamson actively sought opportunities to prepare business histories, as demonstrated by his proposals to the petroleum industry, Sears, Roebuck and Company, and Northwestern University Dental School. The materials related to Northwestern University: A History include correspondence, press releases, reviews, and letters from Curtis D. MacDougall, an N. U. journalism professor, criticizing the book's handling of McCarthy-era persecution that took place during MacDougall's 1948 U. S. Senate campaign. Transcripts of interviews with Donald Jacobs, Herbie Juris, Gene Lavengood, and James Allen provide some insight into the writing of the Kellogg Graduate School of Management history.


Corporate Name

Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.). Department of Economics

Personal Name

Williamson, Harold F. (Harold Francis), 1901-1989


Economic history--Study and teaching (Higher)

Economics--Study and teaching (Higher)--United States

Container List / Contents

  • Biographical Materials
    • Personal Data, 1901-1989Box 1, Folder 1
    • Honors and Awards, 1948-1988Box 1, Folder 2
    • Clippings, 1955-1981Box 1, Folder 3
    • Clippings - Liberia Project, 1961Box 1, Folder 4
    • News Releases, 1952-1977Box 1, Folder 5
    • AEA Retirement Dinner, 1970-1971Box 1, Folder 6
    • Festschrift, 1973Box 1, Folder 7
    • Second Retirement from N. U. in 1985, 1985Box 1, Folder 8
  • Education
    • Lecture Notes - Professor Edwin F. Gay, 1926-1927Box 1, Folder 9
    • Lecture Notes - Professor Edwin F. Gay, 1927-1928Box 1, Folder 10
    • Lecture Notes - Professor Edwin F. Gay, 1930-1932Box 1, Folder 11
    • Lecture Notes - Professor Edwin F. Gay, 1934-1935Box 1, Folder 12
    • Lecture Notes - Professor Abbott P. Usher, 1936-1937Box 1, Folder 13
    • Lecture Notes - Professor Abbott P. Usher, 1941-1948Box 1, Folder 14
  • Correspondence
    • Correspondence - Personal, 1967-1979Box 2, Folder 1
    • Correspondence - General, 1961-1982Box 2, Folder 2
    • Correspondence - Letters of Recommendation (alphabetic), 1971-1977Box 2, Folder 3
    • Correspondence - Redlich Prize, 1979-1981Box 2, Folder 4
    • Correspondence - Oral History Program Proposal, 1978-1981Box 2, Folder 5
    • Correspondence - Andreano, Ralph, 1980Box 2, Folder 6
    • Correspondence - Cain, Louis, 1973-1978Box 2, Folder 7
    • Correspondence - Coats, Alfred W., 1983Box 2, Folder 8
    • Correspondence - Cole, Arthur H., 1948-1973Box 2, Folder 9
    • Correspondence - Destler, Chester, 1952Box 2, Folder 10
    • Correspondence - Lewis, W. David, 1973-1980Box 2, Folder 11
    • Correspondence - Lindstrom, Diane, 1972-1976Box 2, Folder 12
    • Correspondence - Overton, Richard, 1973-1981Box 2, Folder 13
    • Correspondence - Suydam, Charles R., 1978-1979Box 2, Folder 14
    • Correspondence - Steinberg, Salme H., 1976-1981Box 2, Folder 15
    • Correspondence - Uselding, Paul, 1971-1978Box 2, Folder 16
    • Correspondence - Winpenny, Thomas, 1971-1978Box 2, Folder 17
    • Correspondence - Woodruff, William, 1967-1975Box 2, Folder 18
  • Teaching Files
    • Syllabi and Reading Lists, 1965-1970Box 2, Folder 19
    • University of Delaware – History 803, 1971-1973Box 2, Folder 20
    • Topics - General
      • Topics - Demand, n.d.Box 3, Folder 1
      • Topics - Economic Development, n.d.Box 3, Folder 2
      • Topics - Economic History, Ancient and Medieval, n.d.Box 3, Folder 3
      • Topics - Economic History, BKU Notes, n.d.Box 3, Folder 4
      • Topics - History of Economic Thought, n.d.Box 3, Folder 5
      • Topics - International Economy, n.d.Box 3, Folder 6
      • Topics - Location Theory, n.d.Box 3, Folder 7
      • Topics - Mercantilism, n.d.Box 3, Folder 8
      • Topics - New Economic History, n.d.Box 3, Folder 9
      • Topics - Public Policy, n.d.Box 3, Folder 10
      • Topics - Technology History – Retail, n.d.Box 3, Folder 11
      • Topics - Trusts, n.d.Box 3, Folder 12
      • Topics - Europe - Agriculture, n.d.Box 3, Folder 13
      • Topics - Europe - Agriculture - old lecture notes, n.d.Box 3, Folder 14
    • Topics - Europe and Great Britain
      • Topics - Europe - Banking, n.d.Box 4, Folder 1
      • Topics - Europe - Industrial Development, n.d.Box 4, Folder 2
      • Topics - Europe - Industrial Integration, n.d.Box 4, Folder 3
      • Topics - Europe - Industrialization, n.d.Box 4, Folder 4
      • Topics - Europe - Land Transportation, n.d.Box 4, Folder 5
      • Topics - Europe - Transportation - old lecture notes, n.d.Box 4, Folder 6
      • Topics - Great Britain - Economic Development, n.d.Box 4, Folder 7
    • Topics - United States
      • Topics - U. S. Agriculture - North, n.d.Box 4, Folder 8
      • Topics - U. S. Agriculture - South, n.d.Box 4, Folder 9
      • Topics - U. S. Agriculture - Since 1860, n.d.Box 4, Folder 10
      • Topics - U. S. Agriculture - 1914 to date, n.d.Box 4, Folder 11
      • Topics - U. S. Banking, n.d.Box 4, Folder 12
      • Topics - U. S. Economic Performance, n.d.Box 4, Folder 13
      • Topics - U. S. Economy, n.d.Box 4, Folder 14
      • Topics - U. S. Economy – Colonial Period, n.d.Box 4, Folder 15
      • Topics - U. S. Economy – 1790-1914, n.d.Box 4, Folder 16
      • Topics - U. S. Economy – 1860-1914, n.d.Box 4, Folder 17
      • Topics - U. S. Energy Resources, n.d.Box 5, Folder 1
      • Topics - U. S. Land Policy, n.d.Box 5, Folder 2
      • Topics - U. S. Tariffs, n.d.Box 5, Folder 3
      • Topics - U. S. Industrial Integration, n.d.Box 5, Folder 4
      • Topics - U. S. Industrialization to 1865, n.d.Box 5, Folder 5
      • Topics - U. S. Land Policy 1790-1860, n.d.Box 5, Folder 6
      • Topics - U. S. Land Transportation, n.d.Box 5, Folder 7
      • Topics - U. S. Manufacturing 1860-1929, n.d.Box 5, Folder 8
      • Topics - U. S. Ocean Transportation, n.d.Box 5, Folder 9
      • Topics - U. S. Transportation after 1860, n.d.Box 5, Folder 10
    • Student Papers
      • Papers by Students at N. U., 1949, 1968, n.d.Box 5, Folder 11
      • Papers by Students at Harvard and Yale, 1939-1945, n.d.Box 5, Folder 12
  • Speeches and Presentations
    • Speeches, 1932, 1955, n.d.Box 6, Folder 1
    • Radio Interview at Yale, 1947Box 6, Folder 2
    • Programs of Conferences Attended, 1948-1981Box 6, Folder 3
    • American Marketing Association Winter Conference, 1963Box 6, Folder 4
    • Orange Smalley Tribute, 1964Box 6, Folder 5
    • Leningrad Economic History Conference, 1970Box 6, Folder 6
    • Belfast Symposium, 1971Box 6, Folder 7
    • Kyoto American Studies Summer Seminar, 1971Box 6, Folder 8
    • Conference on the Evolution of International Management Structures, 1972Box 6, Folder 9
    • Wilmington Business History Conference, 1974Box 6, Folder 10
    • Speech on Winchester Addressed to Westerners International, 1976Box 6, Folder 11
    • Toronto Economic History Meetings, 1978Box 6, Folder 12
  • Associations and Organizations
    • American Economic Association, 1978-1980Box 6, Folder 13
    • Business History Foundation, 1973-1980Box 6, Folder 14
    • Business History Review, 1962Box 6, Folder 15
    • Library Council of Northwestern University, 1976-1986Box 6, Folder 16
    • Business History Press, 1971-1973Box 6, Folder 17
  • Publications
    • "Dictionary of American Economic Thought", 1975-1979Box 7, Folder 1
    • "Dictionary of American History", 1973Box 7, Folder 2
    • Aretê Encyclopedia, 1977-1979Box 7, Folder 3
    • “Time Capsules” - the Process of Writing Business Histories, 1980-1981Box 7, Folder 4
    • Introduction to "The Credit Merchants: A History of Spiegel, Inc.", 1972-1974Box 7, Folder 5
    • Centennial History Proposal - American Petroleum Industry, 1954Box 7, Folder 6
    • Centennial History Proposal - Sears, 1978-1979Box 7, Folder 7
    • "Northwestern University: A History", 1973-1978Box 7, Folder 8
    • Kellogg Graduate School of Management History, 1975-1984Box 7, Folder 9
    • Northwestern Dental School History Notes, 1977Box 7, Folder 10
    • Northwestern Dental School History Notes, 1977-1978Box 7, Folder 11
    • Book Reviews about Books Written by Williamson, 1934-1975Box 7, Folder 12
    • Book Reviews Written by Williamson, 1948-1987Box 7, Folder 13
    • Published References to Williamson Publications, 1959-1970Box 7, Folder 14
    • Articles, Reprints, and Photocopies, 1939-1967Box 7, Folder 15