Business Credit Industry History

Dun & Bradstreet is the leading provider of credit building and credibility solutions for businesses. While our ideas are novel and our company is innovative, our roots are steeped in tradition, woven into the fiber of corporate America and a credit reporting industry dating back to 1837.

Our company’s roots can be traced back to the beginning of the credit industry, when in 1837 the first credit information bureau was established in New York City by a Mr. Church. The bureau was established to serve wholesalers who desired information concerning out-of-town merchants interested in commencing trade. It was a few short years later in 1841 – 20 years before the U.S. Civil War – when the great abolitionist, Lewis Tappan, founded the Mercantile Agency to offer credit services to businesses. For over 170 years, millions of businesses have relied on these credit services to pave their path to business success.

Just as Dun & Bradstreet strives to help businesses show the trustworthiness of their business, Abraham Lincoln wanted to establish a reputation for trustworthiness as a young man and chose to begin his career as a credit reporter at The Mercantile Agency, a predecessor to modern day Dun & Bradstreet. Three other U.S. Presidents took the same path – Ulysses S. GrantGrover Cleveland, and William McKinley. Today, Dun & Bradstreet is carrying forward the tradition of the credit reporting industry by having its hundreds of Credit Advisors (modern day Credit Reporters) throughout the United States. In the spirit of that tradition, our employees continue along this path, helping businesses establish, monitor, and build their credit and credibility. To appreciate the significance of this, consider the remarkable growth of the world’s economies against the backdrop of these pioneering trailblazers in the vital world of providing reliable credit information on the nation’s businesses

In the Beginning…

Economist Paul Henry Nystrom credits the panic of 1837 as the impetus to the rise of the credit rating industry. In his 1919 book “Economics of Retailing,” Nystrom details how collection problems resulting from bankruptcies and business closures led to the establishment of the credit information bureau. Church’s credit information bureau was formed in 1837 and was the first of its kind, giving birth to an entirely new industry focus on the underlying factors of granting credit.

In 1841, American businessman and visionary entrepreneur Lewis Tappan identified the need for a comprehensive network of professional correspondents to provide businesses with an objective and reliable source of credit information to help them in their decision-making. He was also the first person to link creditworthiness to business credibility, with the company’s credo being to focus on a business’ “…means, capital, and character….” With that understanding, Tappan founded The Mercantile Agency in New York City, the business epicenter of the nation.

As with many founders, Tappan – eager to expand and compete – turned over the reins of The Mercantile Agency to Benjamin Douglass in 1847, a seasoned executive who led an ambitious geographic expansion across the country, creating dozens of local offices and hiring and training scores of skilled reporters and interpreters of credit information. This new profession of “credit reporter” was highly respected and attracted many future giants of business, industry and statesmanship. One of those correspondents was Abraham Lincoln, an employee of The Mercantile Agency who was consistently ranked as a top credit reporter. A review from Lincoln’s supervisor in 1858 demonstrates his outstanding ability: “No. 1 always. Responsive and very good.”

In 1854, Douglass chose to bring in new leadership in the form of his brother-in-law, Robert Graham Dun, who later renamed the company R.G. Dun & Company. He continued the company’s expansion throughout the growing United States, and internationally as well, over the next four decades. Around that time, R.G. Dun and Co. faced competition from another firm, The John M. Bradstreet Company, which was originally founded in 1849 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Bradstreet’s competitive advantage came from an enhanced popularization of the use of credit ratings, through what was at the time, an innovative approach: the publication of the first book of book of commercial ratings.

In 1933, the economic depression set in motion the right conditions for a merger of the two fierce rivals. Dun’s CEO, Arthur Whiteside, brokered a deal between R.G. Dun and Bradstreet to form The Dun & Bradstreet Corporation. Whiteside’s leadership led the company out of the depression and into the emerging Information Age. Many in business thought the merger inevitable and three years prior Business Week wrote the following piece that foreshadowed the union: “Our language discloses certain inevitable affinities. Pro and con…ham and eggs. In the field of credit information – it is Dun and Bradstreet.”

The Information Age and the advent of the Dun & Bradstreet D-U-N-S® Number

The rapid development of computing and communications technology proved pivotal to the growth of Dun & Bradstreet, Inc. in the postwar age. The sheer volume of accumulated data, and speedy access to it, increased exponentially. This world-changing development directly influenced the evolution of Dun & Bradstreet from primarily a provider of credit reports to its position as the unquestioned leader in the international information industry.

J. Wilson Newman, Whiteside’s successor, recognized the need to take reasonable risks by increasing its range of products and services in order to thrive in the modern age. In the 1960s, Dun & Bradstreet expanded dramatically by engineering innovative ways to apply new technologies to evolving operations. Most notably, the introduction in 1962 of the Data Universal Numbering System – The D-U-N-S Number – helped standardize business information. This unique business identification system, used to catalog and organize businesses numerically for data-processing purposes, proved so useful that The D-U-N-S Number has become universally accepted as a standard business identifier for the United Nations, the European Commission and the United States Government, among countless other government and business entities.

Dun & Bradstreet – A Legacy of Many Companies

In 2001, Dun & Bradstreet Inc. changed its name to D&B, launching a new corporate brand with a powerful visual identity system. D&B is an institution, having spawned numerous companies and industries through its rich history. As a result, the company has been very active acquiring, selling and spinning-off many well-known companies including R.H. DonnelleyAC NielsenCognizantMoody’s, and Hoover’s.

In 2010, Dun & Bradstreet sold and licensed certain assets related to its Self-Awareness Solutions business to Credibility Corp. Operating as an independent business from Dun & Bradstreet, Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. created a new generation of products and solutions specifically geared to provide businesses with the means to establish, manage and monitor their business credit and credibility.  In 2015, Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. merged into Dun & Bradsteet.

Our Future

Dun & Bradstreet is poised to meet the ever-changing business information needs of the New Millennium, the company is also proud of its distinguished heritage and far-reaching legacy in the sphere of business information. As we look forward, we will continue to “respect our past as we pursue our future.” The company has an unwavering commitment to serving the business community by providing comprehensive information and services that are invaluable instruments for business success.

Learn more about Dun & Bradstreet’s history.