Review: Lincoln’s Labels: America’s Best Known Brands and the Civil War

Lincoln’s Labels: America’s Best Known Brands and the Civil War
by James M. Schmidt

LincolnsLabelsJamesMSchmidtProduct Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Edinborough Press (April 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1889020214
  • ISBN-13: 978-1889020211

The Business of war

Books on logistics tend to be about as much fun to read as watching the grass grow.  The norm is a very very thick scholarly book with footnotes on every other sentence.  Small print, multiple graphs and a large number of pages are required.  This type of book cures insomnia.  Outside of a small audience, readers are taking an advanced college course or desperate to improve their grade.  The problem is the response of companies to the demands of a major war is important.  This is a complex and compelling story of companies balancing government contracts with their normal customers.  Worries over building excessive production capacity or unwanted inventory vie with real immediate requirements.  All this occurs while losing skilled workers to enlistments or the draft.  Until reading “Lincoln’s Labels”, I did not think it possible for a book about war production to be informative and fun.

Each chapter covers a company that supplies the Union armies during the Civil War and is still in business.  This forms an instant connection with the war and the reader.  Borden, Brooks Brothers, Tiffany, Scientific America, Procter & Gamble are standard brand names we all know.  The author links each of these companies to the American Civil War, how they responded and profited.  In place of a lengthy dry tome, we have a lively history of the company during the war.

Each company has a chapter.  This allows the author to concentrate our attention in one industry with almost no distractions.  Sufficient background information is provided for the reader to grasp the industry specific issues caused by the war.  The balance of the chapter is an easy to read, informative history.   The core of each story is people.  These people are producers or users of the product and we see business in very human terms.  A father shipping his son’s body home from Gettysburg introduces the express business.  The Du Pont family’s struggles to produce gunpowder, deal with sabotage, inexperienced workers, increased demand while wishing to serve on “active duty” anchors a very strong chapter.  The war between Scientific America and the War Department, is very well done while showing how important reading material was.

At the end of the book, I am sitting on a Proctor & Gamble soapbox, the soap used to wash myself and my Brooks Brother uniform, reading Scientific America, with Borden’s condensed milk in my coffee, Tiffany sword by my side, American Express is sending my pay home and handled today’s package from home, treated with drugs from Squibb and have good Du Pont gunpowder in my cartages.  After reading this book, I understand how these things came about and what that meant to the men in Blue.

Editor’s Note: Jim is a Top 500 reviewer.

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One response to “Review: Lincoln’s Labels: America’s Best Known Brands and the Civil War”

  1. Fred Ray Avatar
    Fred Ray

    “Amateurs and armchair generals study tactics, professional soldiers study logistics.”

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