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Mercantile Agency

City: New York

County: New York

State: New York

In 1841, New York businessman and abolitionist Lewis Tappan opened the Mercantile Agency, the first successful large-scale credit-reporting agency in the world. Mercantile Agency clerks requested and received information on potential borrowers from attorneys and bankers, who reported back on their subjects' financial solvency as well as their character. The term "mercantile agency" soon became the generic name for the many other similar businesses that developed in the wake of Tappan’s success. The Mercantile Agency opened branch offices in Boston in 1843 and Philadelphia in 1845; by 1861, they had offices in eighteen U.S. cities.

Rowena Oligario, A Culture of Credit: Embedding Trust and Transparency in American Business (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 35-36, 40, 48; Appleton’s Annual Cyclopaedia and Register of Important Events of the Year 1889 (New York: D. Appleton, 1891), New Series Vol. 14:537-38; Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Lewis Tappan and the Evangelical War Against Slavery (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969), 229, 237, 238-39; Jonathan Weinberg, "'Know Everything That Can Be Known about Anybody:' The Birth of the Credit Report," Villanova Law Review 63 (2018), 434-35, 438.