Department History

Economics was one of three departments when the College of Commerce was formed in 1915. (The other two were business organization and transportation.) During the department's illustrious and turbulent history there have been several milestones:

From 1920-1930, the economics department was recognized as one of the best in the country, thanks to the strong reputations of E.L. Bogart, one of the top two or three economic historians in the department; Simon Litman in international trade; Merlin Hunter in public finance; and Philip Locklin in transportation. But in the '30s and '40s new faculty of national stature were not recruited and the reputation slipped.

In 1932 Agricultural Economics was established as a separate department in the College of Agriculture. Three faculty members left economics to join the new department.

From 1947-51 (the Bowen years) the department saw some of its most important growth but also suffered its worst strife. Under a mandate from university president George Stoddard, Howard Bowen, a well-known economist, was brought in as dean of the college. His mandate was to restore the department to the former glory of the 1920s, when it was one of the strongest programs in the country. Under Bowen's direction the department hired several first-rate economists, both established scholars and rising new stars. Everett Hagan was chosen chairman. According to Professor Emeritus John Due, who came to the university in 1948, "the department was converted almost overnight from obscurity to one of the top departments in the country."

The new faculty had been brought in at higher salaries than some of the established faculty and there was considerable redistribution of teaching assignments. These two facts, coupled with some insensitive behavior on the part of the newcomers, led to a pitched battle for control of the department, with the "old guard" calling for the ouster of Bowen and Hagan. There were clashes of personalities, administrative style, and intellectual approach. The new faculty were largely Keynesian; the "old guard" were mainly market economists. These internal squabbles were escalated into full scale war when the conservative local and Chicago press were brought into the melee. The battle turned ugly when the liberal newcomers were labeled "pinkos" in some local and Chicago papers. (It must be remembered that this disturbance took place during the McCarthy era.) The ensuing fight engulfed not only the department and college but the entire university. In the end, Bowen was forced to resign, and seventeen of the faculty he had hired left with him. These included major names in the field of economics, including Franco Modigliani, Leonid Hurwicz, Everett Hagan, Don Patinkin, Margaret Reid, Dorothy Brady, Robert Eisner, and others. The economics department took many years to regain its stature. Ironically, both Howard Bowen, who went on to become president of Grinell College and later of the University of Iowa, and Franco Modigliani, who went to MIT and earned a Nobel Prize in Economics in 1985, were later given honorary degrees by this university in recognition of their outstanding contributions to economics and academia.

The ensuing years were quieter, and the department tried to rebuild its reputation. Faculty from economics formed a separate Department of Finance in 1957. Professor Paul Van Arsdell served as the first head. Then, in 1958, J. Fred Bell, head of the department, helped the university acquire one of the most important economics collections in the country, the Hollander Collection .

In 1965 the David Kinley Lecture Series was established with a gift from Janet Howell, David Kinley's daughter. This series has brought some of the best known names in economics to campus to speak to students and faculty.

Today the department has thirty-six tenure/tenure track faculty. It has produced 821 Ph.D.s and countless master's students. As it moves into its second 100 years, the department enjoys status as one of the top twenty-five departments in the country as determined by U.S. News & World Report and the Gourman Report ranking of graduate departments. Today's economics faculty are productive scholars, outstanding teachers, and active participants in the profession.

Graciela Chichilnisky, 1994; Roy Radner, 1992; Leonid Hurwicz (National Medal of Science), 1989; James Tobin (Nobel Laureate), 1988; Lester C. Thurow, 1987;
Alan O. Blinder, 1986; Franco Modigliano (Nobel Laureate), 1985; Martin Shubik, 1984; Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1984; Gary Becker (Nobel Laureate), 1983; Alfred Kahn, 1982; Martin Feldstein, 1980; Joan Robinson, 1979

If this brief history has whetted your appetite, please contact the Department of Economics for further information. They are publishing a proceedings volume to celebrate their first 100 years.

George Carlson, Paul Boltz, and Ray Leuthold at the Centennial.

The Jacob Hollander Economics Collection -- UI Rare Book Room

Among the many treasures housed in the University of Illinois Library is one of the finest economics collections in the nation, the Jacob Hollander Collection, acquired by Illinois in 1958.

Jacob H. Hollander (1871-1940), president of the American Economic Association in 1921, amassed one of the great economics libraries during his lifetime. At his death in 1940, Johns Hopkins, his alma mater, assumed the collection would come to them as a memorial to Hollander. The family, however, wanted to sell the collection. Hopkins made no offer, and the collection remained crated at a booksellers for nearly two decades. Fred Bell, chair of the department, learned of the collection and, with the aid of Gordon Ray, provost of the university, purchased the collection for the now incredibly small sum of $40,000. The collection boasts 4,260 items, excluding portraits, personal papers, and manuscripts. The earliest edition dates from 1574. In the collection are first editions of Hobbes, Adam Smith, Malthus, Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, and others. Among the undisputed treasures is the first draft manuscript of John Stuart Mill's autobiography and the Tassie Medallion an enamel silhouette portrait of Adam Smith. At the time of its purchase by Illinois, the Hollander was ranked among the top three economics collections in the nation and the top six to eight in the world.

These treasures and many more are located in the Rare Book Room of the University Library. When you are on campus, make plans to visit the library to view some of these collections and see first hand why the UI Library is the fifth most important library in the country, following only the Library of Congress, The New York Public, Harvard University, and Yale University.

Frontispiece from the Leviathan, 1651.

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