Abstract: Wholesale History: The Book Trade in the Twentieth-Century United States

Daniel Raff


This paper expounds elements of the history of book wholesaling in the United States over the long twentieth century. It does so in part to draw out some themes of the anti-Whig approach to business history and related idea about the proper units of analysis (in particular, the importance of studying entire manufacturing systems and their associated channels of distribution together rather than either element in isolation). But the paper's central aim is to make the history of wholesaling in itself a little more visible. That history represents a more interesting, and much more dynamic, subject than is commonly appreciated. The paper argues that this is very clear in the history of the book trade. Indeed, the paper suggests that the history of the American book trade in this period is not really intelligible without attention to its wholesale history component.