D&B Credibility Review History

Dun & Bradstreet understood early on that there is more to a business than just credit. That is especially true in the digital age as credibility becomes increasingly important. To meet this growing need, Dun & Bradstreet developed a credibility report to do for a business’ reputation what credit reports did for the financial industry. Although launched in the last five years, the D&B Credibility Review has deep historical context.

Originally founded as The Mercantile Agency in 1841, D&B became the first provider of business information focused on credit and was the original credit-rating firm. It was also the first agency to look at business credibility, with the founder’s credo being to focus on a business’s “…means, capital, and character….” The original delivery system for credit ratings was verbal, with D&B Credit Reporters gathering information and then disseminating it by word of mouth.

In 1849, a rival to The Mercantile Agency soon emerged. The rival firm—Bradstreet Company—created the first credit and credibility review and launched the initial volume in 1857. Bradstreets’ Improved Commercial Agency Reports contained 110 pages of credibility information, including roughly 17,000 business credit ratings.

In response, The Mercantile Agency began hiring top quality credit correspondents to provide the very best analysis and credit reports. 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.”

By 1859, The Mercantile Agency (now called R.G. Dun & Company) had amassed enough credit reports from their growing base of credit reporters to follow up with their own review. The Dun’s Reference Book bested Bradstreet’s Review, covering the credibility and creditworthiness of 20,268 businesses across 519 pages. And by 1886, the number of business credit ratings had topped one million and Dun began issuing multiple reviews including The Mercantile Agency Annual, which launched in 1871. By 1896, R.G. Dun began publishing the Dun’s Review, initially a weekly periodical in circulation until the late twentieth century.

Under increasing competition and the strains of the Great Depression, R.G. Dun and Bradstreet merged in 1933. 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.”

As D&B emerged with increasing strength out of the Great Depression, its global reach into credit and credibility reviews also grew. By the mid-20th century, D&B was regularly publishing the Dun’s Review and numerous other periodicals.

A little known fact is that some of the most well-known reviews were at one point owned and operated by D&B: Moody’s (1900 Moody’s Manual of Industrial and Miscellaneous Securities), Nielsen (1933 Nielsen Retail Index) and Donnelley (1886 Chicago Telephone Directory; 1890 The Blue Book) were all Dun & Bradstreet companies at one point.

Learn more about the D&B Credibility Review