I've been reading a terrific short history of The Company, which argues that the
corporation -- not the state, religion or political party -- is the basic unit of
modern society, and in fact the biggest change in centuries the way society
The first big modern companies were American railroads,
which came out of nowhere in the 19th century, they write. Their
presence was revolutionary: "In 1891, the army, navy and marines employed a
total of 39,492 people. The Pennsylvania Railroad employed over 110,000."
Railroads also played a major role in knitting together the nation, they say.
Companies also reflected national characteristics. In part
because guilds had a more durable presence in German society, companies
preserved the system of apprenticeships -- which, they write, "helps explain the
German fascination with training." Factory foremen had more influence on
operations. This carried over into the military, they say: "the Germany army
gave far more power to non-commissioned officers."