Alfred D. Chandler Jr., the man Fortune magazine once described as “America’s pre-eminent business historian,” died last week at the age of 88. He was best known for his 1978 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business, which shows how a new class of salaried, professional managers wrested control of the American economy from the phantom market forces described by Adam Smith. Chandler’s theories earned him international praise and forever altered the field of economic history. Before his career began, most business histories were either glowing tributes to America’s “captains of industry” or scathing critiques of the country’s unscrupulous “robber barons.” Chandler sidestepped this emotional debate altogether and focused on how the organizational structures of American business evolved over time.
Chandler was born in Delaware and spent the first five years of his life in Argentina, where his father worked as a representative for an American locomotive company. He received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard in 1940 and interpreted intelligence photos for the Navy during WWII. Chandler went on to earn his doctorate from Harvard and taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University before returning to Harvard to teach at its business school. He served as president of the Economic History Association and the Business History Conference and was a member of the American Philosophical Society.