Prominent Dutch American Entrepreneurs tells the stories of successful businesses started by Dutch-Americans in the United States. Its author is Professor Emeritus Carl Pegels of the University at Buffalo who taught Business Management there and has written extensively on that subject throughout his career. We spoke with him about his book.
Born in Rotterdam
Professor Pegels is a Dutch-American himself. He was born in a suburb of Rotterdam, the Netherlands. At age 16 he and his family emigrated to Canada. He studied in the US and in 1966 received a Ph.D. from Purdue University. He had always been interested in history but did not pursue that as a career in academia because he felt there was much more of a future for him, economically, teaching Business Management.
"I started writing about Dutch-American entrepreneurs after my retirement six years ago. Looking into my own family's history got me interested in genealogy and I was inspired by a survey of German immigrants into the United States. I realized there was no in-depth study on what Dutch-American individuals had achieved. "
"When I started writing biographies I expected to maybe write 40 or 50 of them -- but there are now more than 300! I think they constitute a fascinating history. These immigrant families have made real contributions. Just think of Thomas Edison, for instance.”
"It wasn't my original plan to publish a book, so initially I just focused on writing online profiles." It became clear professor Pegels had enough material for a book, which he began about two years ago. "It was a good fit with my academic background. Moreover, I had a lot of fun with this project, writing about all these amazing stories where people start out with nothing and make it to the top."
With a wealth of facts, figures, and details Prominent Dutch American Entrepreneurs is a true source book and primer for college courses in Entrepreneurship, American History, Culture, Society and Economy. However, it will appeal to a wider audience, especially to Dutch-Americans.
The book uses a broad definition of "Dutch-Americans". Professor Pegels: "There was no hard and fast rule in selecting subjects in the book: if they had a reasonable Dutch background and were more famous, I included them". Among those featured: the Vanderbilts, Thomas Edison, as well as the Koch brothers -- whose grandfather came from the Netherlands to the Texas frontier. These and other famous Americans all have a place in the book which mainly focuses on the past 150 years, although some chapters on early immigrants in the 17th and 18th century are also included.
The book is highly structured, with a logical grouping by generation and subject. The grouping by subject makes for interesting comparisons. For example, in that framework, professor Pegels discusses three successful Mid-West companies together: Pella Corporation, with its $1 billion sales, Vermeer Manufacturing, also based in Pella, and Prince Manufacturing. All three companies were founded by Dutch immigrants.
Professor Pegels: "The stories of these entrepreneurs are stories about immigrants who were very ambitious, creative, and entrepreneurial. A good example is Cornelius Vanderbilt, who really started from scratch, was amazingly successful, and became one of the richest men in the United States. Even today Vanderbilt draws the most attention on our website. We track the page views with Google Analytics, and the Vanderbilt page is by far the most popular.”
Dutch coffee culture
The book has many more fascinating stories of successful enterprises. For instance, the Dutch coffee drinking culture made its way to the United States through the Peet family. "Alfred Peet grew up in a family that owned a gourmet coffee and tea distribution company in the Netherlands. After the Second World War he moved to the United States and was appalled that you could not find a gourmet coffee shop anywhere. So he opened his first gourmet coffee bean and coffee shop in Berkeley, California during the 1960s." It would prove to be the start of an amazing coffee empire: employees of Starbucks were later trained under Peet.
Professor Carl Pegels covers the 17th and 18th centuries, the transportation pioneers, industrial and infrastructure development, merchandising and services, innovation and development and finally the arts, culture and education. He has written a comprehensive study of the lives, histories and business endeavors of Dutch-American entrepreneurs.
Prominent Dutch American Entrepreneurs
C. Carl Pegels, University at Buffalo
199 pages, available as paperback and hardcover