University of Michigan
News for Faculty and Staff

December 18, 2017

Henry Carter Adams

March 6, 2017

Henry Carter Adams

Old school: U-M in History

Topic: Bicentennial

Henry Carter Adams in the early 1890s. (Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library)

After teaching for a semester at Cornell, where economics was not in high enough demand to justify a full-time professor, Henry Carter Adams found himself at the University of Michigan for the second semester. Unable to find full-time work, he jumped between Cornell, Michigan and John Hopkins, teaching one semester at a time, but wishing to plant roots in Ann Arbor. In the late 1880s, at a Cornell conference, Adams was asked about a massive railroad strike in the Southwest. The economist sided with the workers, and under pressure from Henry Williams Sage, a lumber baron on Cornell's board, Cornell President Andrew Dickson White terminated Adams' employment. But after a brief discussion, U-M's president, James Angell, offered Adams a full-time professorship. So Adams divided his time between chairing the new economics department at U-M and developing statistical and accounting systems to keep track of the railroads for the Interstate Commerce Commission, the federal government's first attempt at regulation for the economy. In his writing, Adams argued that competition "might be good or bad" but "it was the duty of the state to harness its power for the public welfare." The economist also started U-M's first courses in business administration as well as courses in accounting, finance and marketing. Adams chaired the university's department of economics until his death in 1921.

— Adapted from "Michigan in the Making," by Francis X. Blouin Jr. and James Tobin. To read more, go to heritage.umich.edu.