Olivier Zunz

Capitalism and Philanthropy in the American Century


The “American century” was founded on Americans' increasingly sophisticated ability to turn knowledge of the physical world into market and military advantages, thus challenging Europeans’ economic, scientific, and technological leadership. Starting in the 1870s, Americans created a vast institutional matrix of inquiry to promote this endeavor. Ambitious research universities like Johns Hopkins University (1876) and the University of Chicago (1892), funded with large donations from wealthy businessmen and directed by legendary academic entrepreneurs, were only the more visible points in a network of new establishments that came to include federally and state-funded land-grant colleges and agricultural stations, specialized institutes of technology, large and small corporate laboratories, and private and public foundations. This institutional matrix of inquiry gained in strength throughout the first half of the twentieth century as Americans explored new markets and mobilized the nation’s resources for two world wars. As a knowledge organization, the matrix enabled investigators from separate fields of inquiry and institutions to come together and collaborate.