Don’t Know Much About ‘Corporate’ History: Historical Company Research

Many times the type of company information we are seeking is current. Current information can be easier to locate because new strategies and innovative business models are written about extensively in the news, business journals, and on the web. Researching a company’s history requires a slightly different strategy. Below are some resources to help you locate historical company information.

A good starting point is in the International Directory of Company Histories. This e-book (also available in print) covers 11,000 companies. Each concise company profile is between four and six pages long and covers statistics, dates and key players, as well as other important information like expansions and company strategies. The information is gathered from reliable sources such as academic journals, books, magazines, annual reports, and the company’s archives.

Pages from jc penney annual report

Annual Reports are a good source for historical company information. The Management Discussion & Analysis (MD&A) section of the annual report provides an overview of the previous year’s operations and often includes a discussion on future prospects like goals and strategies for the upcoming year. Annual reports are available in several subscription databases. Use our Business FAQ “Where can I find current and historical annual reports?” for access. Also, take a look at our previous post, Gimmie that Old Time Financial Statement for a detailed overview on finding annual reports.

Applied Science & Business Periodicals Retrospective (1913-1983) covers a wide range of historical trade journals (e.g. Journal of Retailing) and business magazines (e.g. BusinessWeek, Fortune, etc.). Search within this database by company name. For a company like J.C. Penney, whose name often appears differently, search for variations on the spelling/punctuation (e.g. j.c. penney OR j. c. penney OR penney stores OR penney, j.c. etc.).

Applied Science

You will notice that there is no full-text available in this database. Use the PennText button to check for availability. In most cases, because of the age of the items, they will not be available online. Request documents that are unavailable electronically or in print through Interlibrary Loan.

Business Source Complete and ABI/Inform both cover a wide range of business-oriented scholarly journals, magazines, and trade journals. Build a search using the company name as well as keywords like “company profiles” to find relevant articles.
Try a search like:

J.C. Penney   (in the Company field – called CO Company Entity in BSC and Company/Organization in ABI/Inform)
histor* or “company profiles” or “corporate profiles”   (the asterisk is a truncation symbol that will pick up variant word endings)

Pages from Dynamo_May_1924In some cases, you may be able to locate company newsletters and other primary documents. For example, the DeGolyer Library of Southern Methodist University has a digitized collection of the JC Penney Dynamo. The Dynamo was the company magazine from 1917-1932. The first issue of the Dynamo opens with the lofty quote:

“Let us, through the pages of this magazine, work together to make the J.C. Penney Company, not only the greatest concern of its kind in the United States, but the most unique in the world.”

The DeGolyer Library also houses Mr. James Cash Penney’s personal papers.

Depending on the company, there may also be books written about it. To find books in Penn’s collection, search in Franklin by company name. You may also want to search for keywords that describe the industry in which the company operates in (e.g. retail trade).

1 thought on “Don’t Know Much About ‘Corporate’ History: Historical Company Research

  1. Pingback: Corporate Affiliations and ReferenceUSA’s “Way Back” Machines | Datapoints: A blog from the Lippincott Library of the Wharton School of Business

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