What does it mean to be an American? What are American ideas and values? American Enterprise, the companion book to a major exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, aims to answer these questions about the American experience through an exploration of its economic and commercial history. It argues that by looking at the intersection of capitalism and democracy, we can see where we as a nation have come from and where we might be going in the future.
Richly illustrated with images of objects from the museum’s collections, American Enterprise includes a 1794 dollar coin, Alexander Graham Bell’s 1876 telephone, a brass cash register from Marshall Fields, Sam Walton’s cap, and many other goods and services that have shaped American culture. Historical and contemporary advertisements are also featured, emphasizing the evolution of the relationship between producers and consumers over time. Interspersed in the historical narrative are essays from today’s industry leaders—including Sheila Bair, Adam Davidson, Bill Ford, Sally Greenberg, Fisk Johnson, Hank Paulson, Richard Trumka, and Pat Woertz—that pose provocative questions about the state of contemporary American business and society. American Enterprise is a multi-faceted survey of the nation’s business heritage and corresponding social effects that is fundamental to an understanding of the lives of the American people, the history of the United States, and the nation’s role in global affairs.