Publication Date

November 1, 1999

Perspectives Section

In Memoriam

Former AHA President Thomas Cochran, a pioneer in the field of American economic history, passed away on April 29, 1999, his 97th birthday.

Cochran received a BS and MA from New York University, before earning his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1930. He taught at NYU for almost 25 years, rising to the rank of full professor in 1944, before joining the University of Pennsylvania in 1950 as professor of the history of the American people. He was named Benjamin Franklin Professor of History in 1968.

Cochran opened new areas of research in the history of business and industrial production. He also opened up new methodological approaches to the field, drawing on the social sciences and focusing new attention on the importance of social and cultural factors in the history of business. He was an early proponent of the application of social science techniques to the study of history. In an important 1948 article in the American Historical Review, “The Presidential Synthesis in American History,” he challenged the profession to set aside the political periodization and structuring of history.

During his long and distinguished career, he wrote numerous books that remain standards in the field, including Railroad Leaders: The Business Mind in Action (1953) The American Business System (1957), A Basic History of American Business (1959), Business in American Life (1972), and Frontiers of Change: Early Industrialism in America (1981).

Cochran served as president of the AHA in 1972, and also presided over the Organization of American Historians from 1965 to 1966 and the Economic History Association from 1958 to 1960.

Cochran is survived by his second wife of 10 years, Ann Widmer Cochran.

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