We’ve come a long way since July 20, 1841 — the day we set up shop as The Mercantile Agency in New York City and helped start a business information revolution. We’ve done a lot of growing in that time to stay on the leading edge of technology.

Following is an in-depth look at where we’ve been, and where we are going.

The Pioneer Years

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 United States 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.

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 D&B.

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 D&B out of the depression and into the Information Age.

D&B in the Modern Era

The rapid development of computing and communications technology in the post-war era has been central to the growth of D&B. During the past 50 years of D&B’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 D&B needed to take risks and increase its range of products and services. Overall, D&B 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 D&B 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, D&B 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.

D&B in the Millennium

D&B has undergone a period of restructuring in recent years, designed to make D&B a smaller, more tightly focused company. 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. And in October 2000, D&B launched an ambitious new plan called the Blueprint for Growth — a strategy designed to transform itself into a growth company with an important presence on the Web.

We’re creating a whole new generation of products and services that give customers exciting opportunities to manage business information more efficiently. We are constantly expanding the size and improving the quality of our global database, which now covers more than 200 million businesses worldwide. And we’re working hard to continuously improve the high-quality service that is our hallmark.

We’re a company poised to meet the new century. But we will always have a fundamental legacy to define us, a legacy that ties us to our past and supports us as we venture into the next millennium.