Some Tips for Researching Business History at the Newberry


The Newberry has a variety of materials that can be used to study the history of businesses and corporations, ranging from electronic reference sources to corporate archives of local businesses (The Newberry has particularly strong resources for railroad and printing business history). Here are some sources to assist you in finding information on local business history in the Newberry's collections. Librarians at the Reference Desk or the Local and Family History Reference Desk are also available to help you with your research.

The Newberry Online Catalog is the best place to begin your research. You can search by Subject in our Primo VE catalog using the “Advanced Search” function to the right of the search bar. Select “Subject” in the drop-down menu of search features in place of “Any field,” then copy-and-paste one of the following subject headings:

  • Business --- History
  • Business enterprises --- History
  • Corporations --- United States --- History

The following subject headings are useful for finding information on specific kinds of businesses:

  • Printing --- United States --- History
  • Railroads --- United States --- History
  • Type and type-founding --- United States --- History

To find industry-specific periodicals or membership directories, use subject headings such as:

  • Library Associations --- United States --- Directory
  • Paper Industry --- periodicals

Local directories also contain information on industries or individual companies:

  • Chicago (Ill.) --- Directories
  • Chicago (Ill.) --- Industries
  • Chicago (Ill.) --- Manufactures

Results can be filtered by Material Type, Language, Date, Author, Title, etc. prior to searching by using the drop-down menus in the search panel. If your search produces too many options, you can also narrow results using the faceted options on the left-hand side, under the heading “Refine your results.” Clicking on one of these filter terms or the box to their left will limit results to only those that fit this criterion, while clicking on the red box to the right of the term will exclude those results. For more information about searching in our online catalog, please see our Guide to Primo VE.

Many of the Newberry’s directories are not present in the Online Catalog. There is also a supplemental list of directories available.

Catalogs can be a rich source of information about business history:

  • Catalogs, Booksellers’
  • Commercial catalogs
  • Printing machinery and supplies --- Catalogs

Individual companies can be searched as a subject or as an author, both on the Newberry Online Catalog and on WorldCat:

  • A.C. McClurg & Co.
  • Chicago Daily News, Inc.
  • Pullman’s Palace Car Company
  • R.R. Donnelley and Sons Company

Business Founding Date Directory. Call Number Ref HD2785 K4.

Guide to Business History. Call Number H 71 .484.

Local Businesses: Exploring their History. Call Number HD 2785 .K43 1990.

Business History Review. This periodical, published by the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, is available at the Newberry both in print (Call Number H 71008.137 [1926-1987]) and online through JSTOR (1954-2006) within the Newberry (subscription databases are not accessible from outside the building).

JSTOR. Full text of over 50 business and economic journals is available through JSTOR on Newberry Library computers (subscription databases are not accessible from outside the building). A list of business journals is also available.

Poole’s Index to Periodical Literature. Call Number Ref AI 3 .P7 1938. This resource indexes over 400 American and English nineteenth-century periodicals, many of which are available in the Newberry’s collections.

ProQuest Historical Newspapers Database. You can search for articles about your company in the Chicago Tribune (for the years 1849-1986) and the New York Times (for the years 1851-2004) on Newberry computers (subscription databases are not accessible from outside the building).

Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature. Call Number Ref AI 3 .R48.

The Newberry holds the corporate archives for several railroad companies and printing companies, as well as the Newberry’s own archive. A list of Newberry modern manuscript collections related to business is available here.

ArchiveGrid. Selected Newberry archival finding aids; bibliographic records and digital finding aids for archival and manuscript collections at RLG libraries and other research libraries worldwide.

Directory of Business Archives in the United Sates and Canada. Call Number Ref HD 2770.5 D57 1993.

Directory of Corporate Archives in the United States and Canada.

Sanborn Maps for Illinois. The Newberry subscribes to this database of historical insurance maps of Illinois, which is available on Newberry computers (subscription databases are not accessible from outside the building). The maps often include detailed drawings of the businesses, and occasionally details about operational hours or numbers of employees.

Chicago and Cook County Biography and Industry File

This file, part of the Newberry Library Card Catalog, indexes biographical and industrial sketches of people and industries that appeared in collective biographies and industrial guides such as Chicago & Its Distinguished Citizens and Manufacturing & Wholesale Industries of Chicago. Individuals are filed before corporations so, for example, “Pullman, George M.” precedes “Pullman Company.”

Chicago Neighborhood Research Guide

Genealogy and Local History librarians at the Newberry Library compiled this list of books, maps, and demographic information about Chicago neighborhoods.

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