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Our guest author today is Ellen Terrell, Business Reference Specialist.

A perennial question for Business Reference staff is about old companies and businesses. And by old I mean from the 1890’s (or earlier!) not necessarily the 1990’s.

One of our go-to sets is the old Mercantile Agency Reference books that developed into Dun & Bradstreet Credit Reference Book. We have this title going back to 1860 in print and microfiche and it seems like someone on staff uses it at least once a month. Its basic premise was to let people know what type of business they might be dealing with and whether they were a company that had money to pay its bills using their code system for “pecuniary strength” and general credit.

Birds' eye view of New-Orleans from the west bank looking down at the river with many ships in the foreground and the city of New Orleans in the background
Birds’ eye view of New-Orleans c1851.

I love this title.

It is so interesting to see the development of America though the thickness of the volumes, additions of territories and states, and the longer list of companies under towns and cities as they grew.

While it is not a complete register of companies that existed because some places did not have a representative to report on local companies, for a picture of a place and the types of businesses, this set is unique. For example, I had occasion to look at the volume from 1865 and decided to look up my hometown of New Orleans.

Unlike some New England states, New Orleans was the only location covered for Louisiana in 1865 (Mississippi wasn’t even listed). All the companies listed only took up one page front and back. But, by 1870 many more places were covered and took up 10 pages front and back, with New Orleans having three and a half pages front and back.

I am happy to report that in 1865 there was listed a Mrs. E. Farrel, Mrs. E. Dezuch, and Mrs. M. Jackson listed as milliners while an Alphonse Diez was listed as a hatter. One S. Anderson was a photographist and a T. Lilienthal (or Theo Lienthall) owned a photograph establishment. John McIntyre was listed as a plumber, C. Duhamel an optician, while J.H. Ashley and George Glidden were listed as ship chandlers (those are retail dealers who sell special supplies or equipment for ships). Many other businesses were listed – DG (dry good), fancy goods, tobacconist, variety store owners, grocers, commodity merchants, liquor stores, jeweler stores, druggists/apothecaries, clothing stores, shoe makers, furniture stores, Cotton factors, etc.

There were a number of books store owners and stationers including: A Ralu, Thomas L. White, E. H. Wagner, H. G. Stetson & Co, Duncan & Baker, Francis Bovain, Paulin Durel, C. D. G. Holle, Lewis Schwartz, and Phineas Myer.

Photograph of the front of DH Holmes department store taken from the middle of Canal Street with a deliver truck out fron
New Orleans, Louisiana. Canal Street 1943

New Orleanians will recognize Leon Godchaux who was in the wholesale clothing business and whose endeavor became Godchaux Clothing/Leon Godchaux Clothing Co. Ltd. which lasted until the 1980’s. There is also Daniel H. Holmes who sold dry goods and whose business eventually became D. H. Holmes – later purchased by Dillards and is still in operation.

And lastly, being from New Orleans, how could I pass up the opportunity to mention businesses that were involved with the city’s iconic iron work – D. C. McCann who operated a foundry, Bennett & Lurges manufactured iron railings, and a C. A. Miltenberger who was also listed as making iron railings.

Comments (4)

  1. How times have changed a city for over 150 years. Pretty impressive.

  2. And sugar: Godchaux Sugar-“Look for the blue band”

  3. I saw and photographed a piece of iron with the name Bennet Lurges on a long closed building in Downtown Selma, Alabama. I will gladly share the photo if you give me an address to which I can send it!

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