Adams, Henry C. (Henry Carter), 1851-1921

Alternative names
Birth 1851-12-31
Death 1921-08-11

Biographical notes:

University of Michigan Professor of Political Economy.

From the description of Letters, to Joseph A. Labadie, 1895-1909. (University of Michigan). WorldCat record id: 34368214

University of Michigan professor, economist, and Interstate Commerce Commission statistician.

From the description of Henry Carter Adams papers, 1864-1924. (University of Michigan). WorldCat record id: 34423612

1887-1921 Professor of Political Economy and Finance, University of Michigan.

Epithet: economist

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000001394.0x000040

Henry Carter Adams was born in Davenport, Iowa, December 31, 1851, the son of the Reverend Ephraim and Elizabeth (Douglass) Adams. His parents were members of the "Iowa Band," a group of New England Congregationalists who went west to establish churches and colleges modelled after Eastern counterparts. After graduating from Iowa College (later Grinnell) in 1874, Adams matriculated at Andover Seminary (his father's alma mater) to prepare for the ministry. After one year, however, he decided against a ministerial career and in favor of advanced study in political economy. Entering Johns Hopkins he fell under the influence of Herbert Baxter Adams . In 1878 he received the first doctor of philosophy degree awarded by the new university and spent the following year studying in Europe. In 1880, Adams accepted his first teaching position, a joint appointment at Cornell University and the University of Michigan. Forced out of Cornell because of his "radical" economic theories, he took up permanent residence in Ann Arbor, remaining on the Michigan faculty until his retirement in 1921.

In 1887, Adams accepted additional responsibilities as a statistician for the Interstate Commerce Commission. With the reorganization of the Commission in 1907, Adams became head of a section charged with accounts and statistics, where he served until he retired from federal service in 1911. In these beginning years of government utility regulation, Adams developed a uniform system of railroad accounting essential to such regulation. After he left the Commission, Adams used his technical knowledge in serving as an "expert witness" in numerous railroad compensation and tax cases.

From 1913 to 1916 Adams served the Chinese government as a special consultant on railroad accounts and statistics, spending a year in China by government invitation. In his last years he concerned himself increasingly with the improvement and expansion of education in business and the social sciences. Several universities, recognizing his pioneering work, granted Adams honorary degrees. In 1895 his professional colleagues elected him president of the then infant American Economic Association . He also served for a time as associate editor of the International Journal of Ethics.

As a spokesman for progressive ideas, Henry Carter Adams demonstrated a penchant for practical innovation and controversy, lecturing extensively and writing numerous books and articles on a wide range of social, economic and philosophical issues and questions. He died August 11, 1921.

From the guide to the Henry Carter Adams Papers, 1964-1924, (Bentley Historical Library University of Michigan)


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  • Religion
  • Railroads--United States
  • Public utilities--United States
  • Children
  • Social service--United States--Societies, etc
  • Economics
  • Taxation--United States
  • Education--Michigan--Ann Arbor
  • Railroads
  • Universities and colleges--Michigan
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  • Street railroads--United States
  • Public Utilities
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  • Germany (as recorded)
  • Detroit (Mich.) (as recorded)
  • Ann Arbor (Mich.) (as recorded)
  • China (as recorded)
  • Germany. (as recorded)
  • China (as recorded)
  • Detroit (Mich.) (as recorded)
  • India, Asia (as recorded)