Entrepreneurship: A History

History has always proved to be the best teacher there is, but no one really listens to her. She probably looks like a dull, old lady, holding some millions of years on her shoulders and wishing someone will give her some attention from time to time. Today we’ll do just that.

We, as people, have decided some time ago that it is better to look to the future, than the past and we might have forgotten that this old lady we call history, could give us some insight on what the future might hold in store for us. And if not, at least we’ll have some fun dusting off old forgotten stories about entrepreneurship.

Yes. This is where we stop today: the history of entrepreneurship. It is a rich, fascinating story that we can trace back to the early traders and merchants some thousands of years ago. We’ll start with the beginning of trade, go through the first appearances of the first cities ever, then the invention of trade routes that gave a new meaning and greater possibilities to trading. Then we’ll stop by the money stand, more specifically, the invention of money and then we’ll stop at the creation of markets and the first dawn of the industrial age. Yes, we have dug deep into the past. Let’s see!

  1. Trade- the new trend: Remember when trading began the new craze? Neither do we, because it happened some many years ago, so many we can’t really conceive of. The original entrepreneurs were, of course, traders and merchants. The first certified known instance of trading between humans comes from New Guinea, around 17,000 BCE. The product? Obsidian, a black type of glass of volcanic origin which was used to make arrowheads for hunting. These early ancestors of ours exchanged one set of good for another. Together with the advance of agriculture, the various tribes people were gathered in, began to specialize in different crafts, such as farming, hunting, gathering, fishing, tool-making, clothes-making. And so, they began to exchange with one another these services and goods, and it resulted in increased benefits for all. This new way of life was a big discovery at that time, much bigger than, say, Facebook today, or maybe not.
  2. The first cities: They appeared near rivers like the Nile, Tigris or Euphrates. Writing began to appear to keep track of crops. The first armies were developed, the first city governments were formed. Agriculture and all the other little crafts had begun to put humanity on a rapidly developing path toward intellectual and scientific advancement.
  3. The trade routes: This way, trading caravans began moving goods and ideas between civilizations. Ships were built to carry trade over the seas. Networks, hubs and other such complex structures began to appear. The metal “iron” was discovered leading to advances in warfare and very tumultuous centuries were to come. But trade routes still expanded. From Africa to Rome, from China to Europe, from Arabia to Europe, population began to discover the benefits of the others’ products and so wanted to have them for themselves.
  4. The invention of money: The demands of growing business and trade gave rise to a money system. Barter was no longer feasible, as, in order for a trade to take place, both parties had to want what the other party had. Great news is that they discovered something everybody wanted: money. Technically speaking, they didn’t discover it, they invented it. Leaving jokes aside, silver rings or bars are told to have been used as money in Ancient Iraq even before 2000 BC. The first forms of money we know of today were often commodities, such as seashells, large round rocks or beads. It took some four thousand years for the crucially important credit and paper money to appear. The use of money as a medium to store value and enable exchange, has greatly enhanced our world today and our future.
  5. The creation of markets: After the Black Death and the Hundred Years War, we arrive at an era where banking began to become more complex, the guild system grew in importance and the idea that a business could be separated from the identity of its owner, started to take hold. The trade expanded and bookkeepers thought of standardized ways for keeping track of a firm’s accounts. Early entrepreneurs, the merchants and explorers, began to raise capital, take risks and so, stimulate economic growth. Capitalism is soon to follow.
  6. Markets and machines: The story of the last 200 years belongs to the machines and the markets. The world had to deal with numerous schools of thought that tried to explain the sources of wealth and the workings of the market. We had mercantilism, we had Adam Smith and so on.

Then the steam engine came. The Industrial Revolution. Innovations, technology, standards of living never seen before. The concept of mass production and economies of scale began to take over. Then it was Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Frank Kenan, Henry Ford. You know the story from here.