“Though our collections cross multiple centuries, there are themes that are reflective throughout them,” said Laura Linard, senior director of special collections. “You can see the patterns.”
Materials from the collections, available for use in the de Gaspé Beaubien Reading Room, are often brought out for exhibits about how important figures in business influence world affairs. The current exhibit, along with chronicling the history of Lehman Brothers, also shows the role investment banking played in the growth of the U.S. economy and how it helped launch industries that have changed history.
“Clearly the focus and the way everyone remembers Lehman Brothers is as the only company that went bankrupt in the 2008 financial crisis,” Linard said. “But there’s a theme that happens with Lehman throughout, where what they were doing is recognizing the potential in emerging industries. They’re offering banking and financial services to these industries that are still considered potentially risky. When you look at Lehman, you can look at the development of business in the United States.”
One of the biggest industries Lehman Brothers influenced was retail. Through a 1927 book by a partner at the firm, Lehman Brothers set the standard for how department stores are organized. The book, “Principles of Organization Applied to Modern Retailing” by Paul Myer Mazur, become a textbook in business schools throughout the U.S., including HBS.
With its investments, Lehman often displayed an ability to foresee which then-novel industries would develop into mainstream successes. The firm invested early in Paramount Pictures, Pan American Airways, and IBM.
This isn’t the first exhibit at Baker Library to tap into current financial events. During the financial crisis, the library looked at previous economic crises and what could be learned from them. In 2010, as personal borrowing gained more media spotlight, the library looked at how the credit industry moved from the fringes of the economy to its center. And in 2012, as China’s economy expanded, the library explored American entrepreneurs doing business in China as early as the mid-1800s.
Other recent exhibits focused on the emergence of world-changing inventions — a 2017 show featured items from the library’s 1.5 million–object Polaroid Corp. collection — and highlighted historic moments, such as last year’s exhibit on the African-American experience at HBS from 1915 to 1990 and the formation of the African-American Student Union in 1968.
Two of the neatest special-collections displays at Baker Library are economist Robert C. Merton’s 1997 Nobel Prize medal (the first for an HBS faculty member) and a desk from the First National Bank of New York (now Citibank) that belonged to HBS’s earliest benefactor, George F. Baker, who was the bank’s president. His gift funded the construction of the HBS campus in 1924.
Other small displays relate to HBS history and business history in general. Two of the most notable are a bronze bas relief commissioned for an exhibit in the 1939 New York World’s Fair and a trading desk from the New York Stock Exchange.