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COLLECTION Identifier: Arch E75

Bureau of Business Research records


The Bureau of Business Research was the original research arm of Harvard Business School. The records include correspondence, research, administrative and financial records, publications and newspaper clippings regarding the unit's research activities and output.


  • Creation: 1911-1977

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials stored onsite. HBS Archives collections require a secondary registration form, please contact for more information.


99.25 linear feet (5 volumes, 119 boxes, 41 cartons)

The Bureau of Business Research records contains five series: Correspondence and subject files, Research records, Publication department subject files, Publications, and Clippings and other materials. The bulk of the collection consists of research output by BBR researchers either in the form of raw statistical data such as profit and loss schedules or detailed published research reports. The raw research data was compiled by BBR researchers and summarized in publications, including the Bulletins numbers 1-166, Business Research Studies 1-35 and Harvard Business Reports, v. 1-11 . The raw data was solicited from businesses and institutions throughout the United States and includes profit and loss statements and operating budget information. Loose copies of most of the Bulletins, 1-164 are located in this collection. The Business Research Studies and Harvard Business Reports are part of the HBS Archives.

The correspondence and subject files contain administrative correspondence between BBR and businesses or institutions regarding the research study, financial information needed for the study and other administrative information. The largest group of records is the research records which includes faculty research, study subject files and raw research data. These records document the statistical analysis projects conducted by BBR researchers and HBS faculty members. These records date from 1914 to the 1960s. The publication department subject files consist primarily of office of the editor files and financial records including research project budgets and expenditures. The publication department subject files detail the management function of the office and its effort to shepherd faculty research and writings from production to publication. The clippings and other material includes magazine and newspaper clippings collected by BBR and mounted in scrapbooks to document the impact of the research and work they conducted.

Historical Note:

The Bureau of Business Research (BBR) at Harvard Business School (HBS) was established in 1911 by Dean Edwin F. Gay and Arch W. Shaw as the first organized effort to conduct research in business administration. Shaw was the inventor of the Business Policy course at HBS and donated the initial capital to fund the Bureau. BBR was founded to assemble and analyze business data that could be used as teaching examples in classroom settings. HBS sought to augment typical textbook and lecture teaching with real life examples of what business executives were facing on a daily basis. Establishing business as a profession, similar to law or medicine was the end goal of HBS during its early days.

The first research project conducted by the Bureau was a study to establish the cost of operating a retail shoe business. Paul T. Cherington, HBS Professor in Economic Resources of the United States, and Clarence Stoner (MBA 1911) devised a committee of manufacturers, retailers and faculty to serve as field agents to collect financial data from businesses in the form of a standardized profit and loss statements. The profit and loss statements were collected from over 130 retail shoe stores. The data consisted of a merchandise statement, an expense statement, a net gain statement and a balance sheet. All identification associating a business with its financial data was kept strictly confidential. The data was summarized and the findings were published in the first Bulletin, Object and History of the Bureau with Some Preliminary Findings on the Retailing of Shoes, 1913. The standard classification developed by Cherington and Stoner was adopted by many retailers for their own internal use and helped establish uniform cost principles for the retail shoe industry. The uniform cost principles led to increased and profits, while cutting deficiencies and waste. The Bureau’s first reports became very popular and led to the standard practice of sharing operations cost and profit information among merchants. The Bureau continued its statistical data collecting operations through World War II. After each study was conducted, the published Bulletin was mailed to a participating businesses free of charge. BBR saw the collection of statistical data as a two pronged approach; the statistical data was collected and used as true factual business data for teaching purposes and used as an incentive for businesses that were supplying data to improve efficiencies and profits.

BBR operated as an autonomous unit that focused on industry research studies from its founding until 1944, when it merged with the Division of Research's Business Research Services (BRS). The new administrative unit was renamed the Division of Research-Bureau of Business Research. The Division of Research-(BRS) was founded in 1933 to administer project research, facilitate case development, faculty research and the working papers of the faculty. Professor Malcolm P. McNair served as assistant director and managing director of BBR from 1922-1933 and director of the Division of Research-(BRS) from 1933 until 1936. The two research units merged in 1944 to create one administrative unit for HBS with a focus on administering faculty research and publication. Research at HBS evolved from BBR conducting its own research to facilitating faculty project research and publication as the Division of Research Bureau of Business Research. An editor position was created to oversee the funding and coordination of faculty publication. Some faculty research projects were foundational in the development of certain disciplines including management, strategy, marketing and human relations. The collection contains records that extend past Division of Research Bureau of Business Research's lifespan, but were in use and carried forward by the Division of Research office of the editor. Records that reflect this date from 1963-1977.

In addition to publishing statistical studies on retail operating costs from 1913 to 1926, the Bureau administered the Harvard Business School case collection. The Bureau of Business Research also contributed early “cases”, which were used in HBS classrooms. The early cases were statistical analyses of industries including the wholesale grocery business, variety chain stores and textile industry. BBR was, at times, contracted by merchants to conduct in depth statistical analysis studies of businesses and industries.

Time line: Harvard Bureau of Business Research, 1911-1944 Division of Research – Business Research Services, 1933-1944 Division of Research Bureau of Business Research, 1944-1963

Series Outline

The collection is arranged in the following series:

  1. Series I. Correspondence and subject files, 1913-1969
  2. Series II. Research records, 1911-1971
  3. Series III. Publication department subject files, 1916-1977
  4. Series IV. Publications, 1913-1963
  5. Series V. Clippings and other materials, 1914-1960

Physical Location


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred from the Division of Research to Baker Library Special Collection in multiple installments, 1969-1988.

Related Materials

Baker Library also hold the published Bulletins (138 of the Bulletins are searchable in HOLLIS with the series title, Bulletin (Harvard University. Bureau of Business Research), Business Research Studies and Harvard Business Reports.

Processing Information

Processed: January 2016

By: Benjamin Johnson

Fifteen separate accessions were brought together to create one collection. An effort was put forth to keep records from each accession together intellectually, therefore there may be some folders that don't appear to belong in certain series.

The following record groups are now part of this collection: Arch E75 A.14, Arch E75 A.14.7, Arch E75 A.14.8, Arch E75 A.14.11, Arch E75 A.15, Arch E75 A.72, Arch E75 B.5, Arch E75 C.1-E75 C.2.6, Arch E75 C.7, Arch E75.14.10, Arch E75 A.82, Arch E75 B.10 VF, Arch E75 B.72 VF, GA 9.8, and Arch E75 A.28.5.

Harvard University. Bureau of Business Research. Bureau of Business Research Records, 1911-1977: A Finding Aid
Baker Library
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Baker Library Special Collections and Archives, Harvard Business School Repository

Baker Library Special Collections and Archives holds unique resources that focus on the evolution of business and industry, as well as the records of the Harvard Business School, documenting the institution's development over the last century. These rich and varied collections support research in a diverse range of fields such as business, economic, social and cultural history as well as the history of science and technology.

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