Abstract: Birth of the Credit Man, 1890-1920: A Stage in the Struggle over Transparency in American Business

Rowena Olegario


The formation of the National Association of Credit Men (NACM) in 1896 signaled the professionalization of credit granting among U.S. merchants and manufacturers. This paper explores the association's twin objectives: pushing for greater financial transparency in all American businesses (not just the trusts); and encouraging the sharing of debtors' payment records among credit men working for competing firms. The NACM helped to legitimize the highly controversial methods that credit reporting firms pioneered beginning in the 1830s. In addition, the NACM facilitated the spread of credit interchanges (bureaus), an information-sharing arrangement that had taken root in Britain and Germany, but was slower to develop in the U.S. (The paper is based on the last chapter of a book manuscript. That larger work traces the evolution of the idea of transparency in American mercantile credit during the period 1830-1920.)