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



  • Existence: 1901-1989


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.

Found in 2 Collections and/or Records:

NU History Project

 Unprocessed Material — Multiple Containers
Identifier: 78-25-0-Addition
Dates: 1970-09-01T00:00:00-06:00

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

Identifier: 11/3/10/12
Abstract The papers of Harold F. Williamson, Sr. (a member of the economics faculty at Northwestern University) 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...
Dates: 1926-1987

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Unprocessed Material 1
Collection 1
Economic history--Study and teaching 1
Economics--Study and teaching 1