Fritz Redlich was a unique scholar of entrepreneurship. He is little known now, but for a few decades after World War II, he was an intellectual force that connected to important thinkers such as Joseph Schumpeter and Alfred Chandler. Moreover, his training in Germany had connected him to Max Weber, Wilhelm Dilthey, and Werner Sombart. This foundation drove the nature of his work, which I will characterize, with my characteristic imprudence, as business history with the characteristic openness to social science and philosophy that Schumpeter appreciated about the Youngest German historical School.
For more of Redlich’s personal history, one should read the eulogies prepared by Kenneth Carpenter and Alfred Chandler [“Fritz Redlich: Scholar and Friend,” Journal of Economic History 39(4) (December 1979): 1003-07] and Charles Gaston Arcand, Jr. [“Fritz Redlich, 1892–1978: The Man and the Scholar,” American Journal of Economics and Sociology 40(2) (April 1981): 217-21]. There are several interesting personal points, including Chandler’s story of how Redlich virtually unearthed all of the sources to complete his dissertation.
In 1952, Redlich was invited by Arthur H. Cole (Harvard Business School and the Baker Librarian) to join the Research Center in Entrepreneurial History, which Cole had founded along with Schumpeter in 1948. Redlich had been working for federal and state housing authorities in Boston and was an habitué of the Kress (economics) and Baker (business) libraries. He was known to the Harvard economists; he was part of the German emigrant group that Frank Taussig had recruited in the 1930s. Alas, while Redlich had completed his PhD in economics on the eve of WWI and wrote his Habilitationsschrift in 1935, current events kept him from obtaining a professorship in Europe. As a consequence, he couldn’t get the faculty appointment in the US that he sought.
The Research Center was an active place. It published a journal, Explorations in Entrepreneurial History, and fomented some of the most interesting studies of entrepreneurship in the developed world and how that history was, and was not, echoed in the postwar era in the developing economies. Fritz Redlich was an intellectual leader in this organization; Chandler calls him “the major intellectual force.” Redlich completed much of his work on characterizing entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial activity between 1952 and 1958, when the Center closed due to lack of funding. A significant preoccupation was improving upon Schumpeter’s creative destruction as a way to define entrepreneurial activity.
In this post, I will consider one of Redlich’s lines of inquiry: the nature of entrepreneurial innovation. I will consider in other posts his work on taxonomies of entrepreneurs, including the distinctions between “ideal” and “real” types in the development of entrepreneurial theory. Read more of this post