More than any other single group of individuals, the Boston Associates were responsible for the sweeping economic transformation that occurred in New England between 1815 and 1861. Through the use of the corporate form, they established an extensive network of modern business enterprises that were among the largest of the time. Their most notable achievement was the development of the Waltham-Lowell system in the textile industry, but they were also active in transportation, banking, and insurance, and at the same time played a major role in philanthropy and politics.
Evaluating each of these efforts in turn and placing the Associates in the context of the society and culture that produced them, the author convincingly explains the complex motives that led the group to undertake initiatives on so many different fronts. Robert Dalzell shows that men like Francis Cabot Lowell, Nathan Appleton, and Amos and Abbott Lawrence are best understood as transitional figures. Although they used modern methods when it suited their interest, they were most concerned with protecting the positions they had already won at the top of a traditional social order. Thus, for all the innovations they sponsored, their commitment to change remained both partial and highly selective. And while something very like an industrial revolution did occur in New England during the nineteenth century, paradoxically the Associates neither sought nor welcomed it. On the contrary, as time passed they became increasingly preoccupied with combating the forces of change.
In addition to the light it sheds on a crucial chapter of business history, this gracefully written study offers fresh insights into the role and attitudes of elites during the period. Furthermore it contradicts some of the prevailing thought about entrepreneurial behavior in the early phases of industrialization in America.