Thursday, October 2, 2008

Schmidt: "Lincoln's Labels: America's Best Known Brands and the Civil War"

[Lincoln's Labels: America's Best Known Brands and the Civil War by James M. Schmidt (Edinborough Press, 2008). Hardcover, illustrations, notes, source essay, bibliography, index. Page total: 224 ISBN:978-1-889020-21-1 $27.95 ]

With it's shrewdly alliterative title and popular style, Lincoln's Labels is an interesting introduction to the impact of the Civil War on business entities (and vice versa) directed at a general audience. Applying various preconditions [to include availability of source materials, continued existence, and significance of impact], Mr. Schmidt has chosen his subjects well, although the absence of a firearms manufacturer was a curious omission. Firms include Brooks Brothers (uniforms), Borden (condensed milk), Tiffany (blades and finery), Scientific American magazine, Du Pont (gunpowder), E.R. Squibb (pharmaceuticals), and American Express/Adams Express (express mailing).

Each chapter provides brief background for the company and principle founder(s), along with nice annotated summaries of the enterprise's contribution to the Union war effort. The author also includes one or more colorful anecdotes illustrating the impact of the company's products on life at the front. These associations work well for the most part, and at least are fresh personal stories rather than well worn tales.

The company profiles also serve to illustrate various ancillary points, such as the importance of and struggle to achieve good quality control in the areas of medicine, food, textiles, and powder. Issues of war profiteering and shoddy manufactures are also touched upon.

While written in an informal, storytelling fashion, an examination of Schmidt's bibliography reveals a serious research effort. As stated above, the text is annotated, and source materials consulted include various unpublished manuscripts, newspapers, books, and articles. A helpful essay explaining how these sources were used was also included. It also performs good service in directing interested individuals to related reading. This book marks my first exposure to Minnesota publisher Edinborough Press and I am impressed with their professional presentation and material quality. Small presses like these have always been essential to the breadth and continued health of Civil War publishing. A lively, out of the ordinary work, Lincoln's Labels is a fine introductory survey of the understudied intersection of the business enterprise and military aspects of the Civil War.
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You can also catch the author on Civil War Talk Radio this Friday (October 3) at noon PST; or regularly on his blog Civil War Medicine.

1 comment:

  1. Drew,

    Thanks so much for the thoughtful and thorough review. I couldn't be more pleased at your assessment of my trying to combine "readibility" with "scholarship/research."

    Your comment about the lack of a firearms company is interesting and well-taken. I will say, though, that the ommission was actually on-purpose for my part, as I was trying to concentrate on comapnies that have broader consumer appeal.

    That said, it might be a good idea to include one if I have the privilege of revsing, expanding, or building on this work. I've already got research built up on several other companies, so who knows!

    Keep up the great work - it's a real benefit for us avid (and critical) readers.

    If I could recommend just *one* book related to mine, I'd definitely encourage you to look into Mark Wilson's **Business of Civil War**.

    I also appreciate your kind words about the product that Edinborough puts out...the credit for that goes to publisher Dan Hoisington.

    All My Best,

    Jim Schmidt


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