Abstract: Constructing Business, Constructing Utopia: Historical Perspectives

Peter Hohn


In 1924, King C. Gillette, millionaire president of the Gillette Safety Razor Company, published The People's Corporation, a final volume in the utopian vision that had consumed him for thirty years. How should historians reconcile the Gillette who was a savvy entrepreneur, shrewd marketer, and successful capitalist with the visionary who indulged in quixotic plans for monolithic cities and singular "world corporations"? I argue that the reconciliation is not difficult. Business activity is a crucial form of social action, and, like all social action, is framed by a vision of the future. By comparing business and utopian writings, I demonstrate that the corporation's attempt to create a unified institutional voice mirrors the utopian attempt to bridge the gap between subjective/symbolic and objective/instrumental communication. Business writing successfully unifies the two extremes, showing that the mundane world of business and the quixotic world of utopia are integral parts of the same experience.

BEH On-Line Paper