Very little research has been undertaken in the accounting records of industrial firms during the period 1840 to 1890 when manufacturing cost accounting emerged as a specialised tool of management control. Several useful and interesting theses regarding the evolution of cost accounting practice have been suggested by business and accounting historians ; generally speaking, such theses are rooted in the study of published sources. Alfred D. Chandler, Jr. , for example, has indicated that the small-sized, functionally unspecialised firms typical of American business around 1840 were served adequately by the double-entry mercantile bookkeeping procedures introduced almost 550 years earlier. Such firms did not require the statistical data and the cost accounting methods familiar in the modern enterprise. Chandler has concluded that the need for modern cost accounting arose only after 1850 in railroads and after 1870 in steel, chemical, and metal working industries where oligopolistic markets , complex production processes, and problems of large scale organisation combined to create a high degree of uncertainty and risk. Firms in these industries needed reliable cost data to determine prices , to assess the results of operations and to evaluate capital-intensive technological innova tions. 1 Accounting historians who focus on the more specialised, narrow issue of bookkeeping methods similarly argue that modern
• From Business History Review, vol. XLVI, No. 4 (Winter 1972), pp. 466-74. Reprinted by permission of the editor of Business History Review and the author.