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Many people believe the data revolution began in recent years. At Dun & Bradstreet, we take a slightly different view. We turn the clock back to July 20, 1841 – the day we set up shop as The Mercantile Agency in New York City. Founded by Lewis Tappan, the agency helped spark a business information revolution by creating a network of correspondents that served as a source of reliable, consistent and objective credit information.

Fast forward to present day, and it's obvious a lot has changed. Our credit ledgers now take the form of the world's most complete commercial database, with millions of business records. Our agents, who once rode on horseback to provide the credit information that brought buyers and sellers together, are now data scientists with predictive analytics.

Amidst all the changes, however, our mission has remained constant. We continue to be inspired by human progress and the desire to find better ways of doing business.

Interested in learning more about our unique and fascinating history? Read on.

Expansion & Competition in the 1800s

To help American merchants in their decision-making, an enterprising businessman named Lewis Tappan began, in 1841, to establish a network of correspondents that would function as a source of reliable, consistent and objective credit information. His Mercantile Agency, located in New York City, was one of the first organizations formed for the sole purpose of providing business information to customers.

Benjamin Douglass enters the business. To foster expansion, in 1849 Tappan turned the Agency over to Benjamin Douglass, a former clerk. Douglass capitalized on the improved transportation and communication of the time by expanding his network of offices, essentially providing the Agency with both new customers and superb information.

The credit reporter — a new profession. Shortly after he joined the agency, Benjamin Douglass began establishing local offices and hiring full-time employees who became experienced, skilled reporters and interpreters of credit information. Working as a credit reporter was a respected position that provided strong training in sound business practices. Among the reporters who went on to establish names for themselves were four U.S. presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland and William McKinley.

A strong competitor. In 1849, the rival John M. Bradstreet Company was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio. Two years later, the Bradstreet organization popularized the use of credit ratings with publication of the first book of commercial ratings. The rivalry between The John M. Bradstreet Company and Douglass' agency intensified as the U.S. entered the 20th century. Fundamentally, this had lasting effects on the fate of the two organizations.

In 1859, Douglass turned over the Agency to his brother-in-law, Robert Graham Dun. Under the new name, R.G. Dun & Company, Dun continued Douglass' relentless expansion. During the next 40 years, Dun led the Agency all over the United States and across international boundaries, carrying Lewis Tappan's vision into the next century.

1933: A Historic Merger

As America entered the 1930's, the effects of rivalry and economic depression on both R.G. Dun and The Bradstreet Companies could no longer be ignored. In 1933, the arch competitors merged to form Dun & Bradstreet. The merger was engineered by Dun's CEO Arthur Whiteside. Using his first-rate diplomatic skills, Whiteside was able to broker a deal with the company's long-lasting and foremost competitor. Whereas previously both companies sold "products," Whiteside increasingly emphasized "service." With great leadership, he led Dun & Bradstreet out of the depression and into the Information Age.

Technology-Fueled Growth in the '60s and '70s

The rapid development of computing and communications technology in the post-war era has been central to the growth of Dun & Bradstreet. During the past 50 years of Dun & Bradstreet’s history, increases in the speed and volume of cross-border communications have influenced our evolution from a provider of credit reports to a leader in the international information industry.

The 1960's - 1970's: A time of explosive growth. Whiteside's successor, J. Wilson Newman, recognized that Dun & Bradstreet needed to take risks and increase its range of products and services. Overall, Dun & Bradstreet expanded dramatically during the 1960's by engineering ways to apply new technologies to evolving operations. In 1963, the introduction of the Data Universal Numbering System; The D&B D-U-N-S® Number — — used to identify businesses numerically for data-processing purposes — helped bring business information into the computer age. This unique business identification system proved so useful that today the Dun & Bradstreet D-U-N-S Number has become a standard business identifier for the United Nations, the European Commission and the U.S. Government.

By the 1970's, Dun & Bradstreet had established its commitment to new technology. A new "Advanced Office System" (AOS) fully computerized our data-collection operations, providing the ability to link and analyze categories of information in entirely new ways, and to deliver information to customers faster and more economically.

Man's Confidence in Man: Motion Picture This film recreates stories to show how credit is a part of everyday lives, from small scale purchases to business loans.

A New Millennium, A New Dun & Bradstreet

Dun & Bradstreet has undergone a period of restructuring in recent years, designed to make Dun & Bradstreet a more tightly focused company. Just before the turn of the century, A.C. Nielsen, Cognizant, Reuben H. Donnelley and Moody's Corporation were all spun off to allow each company to pursue focused strategies for its specific business.

In February 2014, Dun & Bradstreet launched a new strategy to drive long-term sustainable growth and to become one global company delivering indispensable content through modern channels to serve new customer needs. We are focused on the commercial marketplace and continuing to be the world's largest and best provider of insight about businesses.

240 Million Business Records … and Counting

We also are constantly expanding the size and improving the quality of our global database. Today our global database covers more than 240 million businesses worldwide. And we're working hard to continuously improve the high-quality service that is our hallmark.