Abstract: Financing the Palaces of the People: Hotel Entrepreneurs, Commercial Capital, and Internal Improvements in Jacksonian America

Andrew K. Sandoval-Strausz


This paper focuses on the entrepreneurial communities that built hotels, among the most numerous and durable of all internal improvements. In a paper I delivered at the BHC several years ago, I argued that the first hotels of the 1790s and 1800s were tremendous financial failures, and that they were intended and recognized as elite spaces meant to exclude most Americans. In tracking this business type into the antebellum era, I argue that hotels were financed by urban businessmen who promoted hotels as projects that were experimental yet indispensable for municipal prosperity in a period of vigorous intercity competition for economic hinterlands. I also contend that hotels avoided attacks from Jacksonian Democrats because they attracted investors from many different backgrounds: hotel company share prices dropped consistently throughout the antebellum decades, and shareholders included workingmen and artisans who eagerly adopted the hotel as a way to advance their interests. This paper takes up a subject matter raised more than half a century ago by George Rogers Taylor, but which has been revitalized more recently by John Lauritz Larson's work on the politics of internal improvements, John Majewski's research on developmental corporations and shareholding, and Naomi Lamoreaux's scholarship on company structure.