Poor’s Manual: The Rise of Business Analysts
New systems of accounting facilitated the oversight of complex financial transactions and funds handled by thousands of employees, from conductors and maintenance managers to freight and purchasing agents. Accounting operations were centralized through a company treasurer, and daily accounting figures were fed into weekly, monthly, and annual reports. The deepening granularity of data produced statistics that provided a means of monitoring railroad profits and losses, tracking pricing, assessing standardized procedures, and improving technology.
Henry Varnum Poor, author of A History of the Railroads and Canals of the United States (1860), editor of the American Railroad Journal (1849-1862), and an avid advocate for railroad reform, was interested in the compilation and analysis of business information. He first published Poor’s Manual of the Railroads of the United States in 1868. The massive volumes included detailed information culled from state and company reports, including the number of miles of railroad construction, costs, profits, and useful comparative ratios among states such as net earnings to cost, net earnings to gross, and stocks to bonds.
Managers and investors eagerly bought copies of Poor’s Manual, which allowed them to follow a company’s growth and compare finances and performance among railroads within a single source. Poor “play[ed] a major role in the development of one of modern business’s most important ancillary services, the provision of reliable information,” Alfred Chandler notes in his biography Henry Varnum Poor, Business Editor, Analyst, and Reformer (1956).29 The name lives on today in the form of Standard and Poor’s, which provides research and analysis of company stock and bonds.