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This Month in Business History

Dun & Bradstreet

Ellen Terrell
Business Reference Section
September 2010

            Overview                              Additional Reading
            Signature Publications         Internet Resources
                                   LC Catalog Searches


Company ratings have become rather common in the United States and their history is intricately tied to one company now called Dun & Bradstreet.

The company now known as Dun & Bradstreet can be traced back to July 20, 1841 when the Lewis Tappan External Link formed the Mercantile Agency in New York City. In the late 1840's Tappan turned the running of the company over to Benjamin Douglass and in 1859 it was incorporated under a new name - R.G. Dun & Company when Robert Graham Dun purchased the company. And later in 1931 when it purchased the National Credit Office, it reorganized under the name R.G. Dun & Corporation.1


Lewis Tappan, half-length portrait, seated, facing right
Prints & Photographs Division
Library of Congress
Reproduction number: LC-USZ62-47919

Concurrently, in 1849 John M. Bradstreet formed the Bradstreet Company was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio. Bradstreet Company popularized the use of credit ratings with publication of the first book of commercial ratings circa 1851. The company moved to New York in 1855 and began publishing their own version of Duns popular title. The company was actually incorporated by John’s son Henry in 1876.2

In February of 1933 Dun & Co and Bradstreet began negotiations to merge. The merger became effective the next month. A notice on page 5 of the Wall Street Journal of March 16 gave notice that the merger was now operative under the name R.G. Dun-Bradstreet (changed in 1939 to Dun & Bradstreet Inc.).3 In 2001 they officially changed their name to D&B in 2001 as part of a branding effort.

One of the most well know things about the company is their signature D-U-N-S® number system. This system, the Data Universal Numbering System, was introduced in 1963 and began as a seven digit number system.4 According to a May 1963 New York Times article, early companies assigned numbers were Union Carbide, Youngstown Sheet & Tube, and Bobbie Brooks, Inc.5 In 1964 they published a code book with the individual codes that continued until 1968 and the numbers made their first appearance in the Million Dollar Directory in 1969.

The company has continued to expand and as of 2009 operates worldwide with almost 200 offices in Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America. It continues to offer a wide array of products both in print and increasingly electronically. Their print Million Dollar Directory became a web product renamed Selectory® in 2008 and Hoovers continues on as it’s own product.

Additional Reading

"Dun Assigning Numbers to Chicago Businesses" Chicago Tribune: July 20, 1963.

Goodman, S. Oliver. "Industrial firms to Get DUNS Digits." Washington Post: July 9, 1963.

International Directory of Company Histories. St. James Press: Detroit, c1988-
LC Call Number: HD2721 .I63
LC Catalog Record: 2001208775

The concise history of the company is contained in volume 61 on pages 80-84 and includes a short bibliography.

Josh Lauer. "From Rumor to Written Record: Credit Reporting and the Invention of Financial Identity in Nineteenth-Century America." Technology and Culture 49, no. 2 (2008): 301-324.
View excerpt on Project MUSE External Link. Viewed August 14, 2012.

Lewis Tappan Papers , 1809-1903.
LC Catalog Record: mm75042317

Correspondence, journals, and other papers reflecting Tappan's interests in abolition, African American education, religion, and his business ventures. Includes diary kept by Tappan while attending the antislavery conference in London (1843); correspondence concerning the antislavery societies with which he was associated, such as the American Anti-Slavery Society, American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, and American Missionary Association; material on his Mercantile Agency, the first credit-rating firm; autobiographical notes; scrapbook and other material relating to the Tappan family and its genealogy; and handwritten legal brief by John Quincy Adams concerning the slave ship Amistad.

Madison, James H. "The Evolution of Commercial Credit Reporting Agencies in Nineteenth-Century America." The Business History Review 48.2 (Summer, 1974): 164-186.

Norris, James. D. R. G. Dun & Co., 1841-1900 : The Development of Credit-Reporting in the Nineteenth Century. Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1978.
LC Call Number: HF5573 .N63
LC Catalog Record: 77095359

Vose, Edward Neville. Seventy-five Years of the Mercantile Agency, R. G. Dun & Co., 1841-1916. Brooklyn, N.Y., Priv. print. at the Printing house of R. G. Dun & co., 1916.
LC Call Number: HF5571 .V6
LC Catalog Record: 16016180

Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. "God and Dun & Bradstreet, 1841-1851." The Business History Review 40, no. 4 (Winter 1966): 432-450.

Signature Publications

Selected Dun and Bradstreet Publications in the Library of Congress

Compiled by Business Reference staff, this guide provides information about selected Dun and Bradstreet business publications in the Library of Congress with brief description and summary of the Library's holdings.

Million Dollar Directory. Dun & Bradstreet. New York, N.Y. : Dun & Bradstreet, Inc., 1959-.
LC Call Number: HC102 .D8
LC Catalog Record: 59003033

Dun and Bradstreet, Inc. Reference Book. Dun and Bradstreet, New York. 1867- .
LC Call Number: HF5573.D7
LC Catalog Record: 99000819 1867-1991
LC Catalog Record: 91649890 1991-2006
LC Call Number: Microfilm 04783
LC Catalog Record: sf88092378 1900-1924

This title has gone though several title changes. It began in 1860 with the Dun, Boyd & Co. before changing to Dun & Co Reference Book in the mid 1860's (it was suspended 1861-63). It kept that name until the turn of the century where it was often referred to as either the Mercantile Agency Reference Book or the RG Dun & Co Reference Book. In 1933 it acquired its current name of Dun & Bradstreet Reference Book. The only other change of note is that beginning in 1966 the size changed to a more standard size and came in multiple volumes from its oversize single volume.

Bradstreet's Book of Commercial Ratings of Bankers, Merchants, Manufacturers, etc., in the United States and the Dominion of Canada. New York, Bradstreet Co. 1989-
LC Call Number: HF5573.B8
LC Catalog Record: 00005199 (1894-1926 incomplete)
LC Call Number: HF5573.B82
LC Catalog Record: 02002055 (1919-1922 incomplete)
LC Call Number: Microfilm 04983
LC Catalog Record: sf88092370 (v.42-v.263 /1878:Apr.-1933:Mar. incomplete)
This title was often shortened to Bradstreet Ratings or Bradstreet Reports.

Dun's Review. New York : R.G. Dun & Co.,
LC Call Number: HF1.D8
LC Catalog Record: sv87064304
LC Catalog Record: 87657071 1893-1933
Electronic copy from HathiTrust External Link

Library of Congress has this item under various titles from 1893-1988. Most common is the Dun's Review though it sometimes it is the D&B Monthly Review or the D&B Review. They published an International edition (HF1.D9) from 1903-1931 and a Statistical Review (HF1.D82) from 1937-1957.

Bradstreet's Weekly, a Business Digest. [New York, The Bradstreet company] 1879-[1933]
LC Call Number: HF1 .B8
LC Catalog Record: 44011628 1879-1933.

Internet Resources

Dun & Bradstreet: Company History External Link

D&B Australian site External Link

Current rating system External Link

PBS on Lewis Tappan External Link

Harvard's Baker Library Duns Collection External Link

Library of Congress Catalog Searches

Additional works on this topic in the Library of Congress may be identified by searching the Online Catalog under appropriate Library of Congress subject headings. Choose the topics you wish to search from the following list of Library of Congress subject headings to link directly to the Catalog and automatically execute a search for the subject selected. Please be aware that during periods of heavy use you may encounter delays in accessing the catalog. For assistance in locating other subject headings that may relate to this subject, please consult a reference librarian.

Publications about the company:

R.G. Dun & Company

Dun and Bradstreet, Inc.

Mercantile Agency (New York, N.Y.)

Publications by the company:

Dun, Barlow & co., 1867-81

Dun and Bradstreet, Inc.

Dun & Bradstreet Publications Corporation

Dun, Wiman & co., 1881

Mercantile Agency (New York, N.Y.)

R.G. Dun and Company

 1. International Directory of Company Histories. St. James Press: Detroit, c1988- p 80-81

 2. Dun and Bradstreet Company History External Link

 3. “Dun & Bradstreet, Inc.” Wall Street Journal, March 16, 1933

 4. Dun and Bradstreet Company History External Link

 5. Fowler, Elizabeth M. “Business is Joining in a Numbers Game.” New York Times: May 26, 1963.

Last updated: 05/11/2016

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