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Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers"How a Nineteenth-Century Man of Business, Science, and the Sea Changed American Life"$
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Tamara Plakins Thornton

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781469626932

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469626932.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.northcarolina.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of North Carolina Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in NCSO for personal use.date: 20 September 2021

The Clockwork Corporation

The Clockwork Corporation

(p.161) Chapter Seven The Clockwork Corporation
Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers

Tamara Plakins Thornton

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter examines the nature, impact, and significance of Bowditch’s work as head of the Massachusetts Hospital Life Insurance Company (MHL). In offering trust accounts and pooling investment capital, the MHL served elite Bostonians, as individuals and as a class, in innovative ways. Bowditch systematized office paperwork and pioneered business procedures to realize his Laplacean vision of the clockwork corporation running with rule-bound regularity. His approach alienated many farmer-borrowers, and caught elite Bostonians off guard, but ultimately the city’s upper crust appreciated its political, ideological, and psychological advantages. Drawing on the association of quantification with impartiality, the mathematician-as-executive created a new kind of capitalist institution, one that folded an impersonal bureaucracy into an enterprise serving the interests of an interconnected community. Now central to that community’s economic success, the Bowditch family frequented elite social circles and Bowditch cultivated new friendships with Boston’s men of letters.

Keywords:   Bowditch, Nathaniel, Elites, Boston, Massachusetts, Trusts, Capitalism, Impersonal institutions, Corporations, Business conduct, Information systems, Quantification

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