Writing an Entrepreneur out of the Historical Record

11 11 2013

Today is Remembrance Day, also known as Armistice Day. There is a lot to think about on Remembrance Day, especially for those of us who have grandfathers who served in the Second World War.

For business historians, it’s a good day to consider the impact of warfare on the international economy that helps to keep us alive and make life worth living. Imagine a world in which the dwellers of temperate climes had to make do without oranges, coffee, and tea. When politicians pursue their chosen policies, as in 1914-1918, it is often left to the private sector to pick up the pieces. The consequences of any breakdown of the capitalist peace are usually horrific.

One of my current research projects relates to the impact of the First World War on international business. Unrelated to this project, I recently did some reading into the curious case of Alfred Baumgarten, a German-Canadian entrepreneur who was largely redacted from the social memory of Montreal during and after the First World War. Baumgarten was a German-born chemistry PhD who helped to establish Canada’s sugar refining industry. He was persecuted during the First World War, died in 1919, and was essentially redacted from the historical consciousness of Montreal, a city he helped to develop. Today, he even lacks an entry in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography/Dictionnaire biographique du Canada  There is, however, a short article about him in Wikipedia. His house is now the Faculty Club of McGill University. I believe there is a historical plaque or some reference to Baumgarten in that building.

Lest we forget.