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The Potomac Company: A Misadventure in Financing an Early American Internal Improvement Project

Douglas R. Littlefield
The Business History Review
Vol. 58, No. 4 (Winter, 1984), pp. 562-585
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3114165
Page Count: 24
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The Potomac Company: A Misadventure in Financing an Early American Internal Improvement Project
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Abstract

The failure of the Potomac Company-the first interregional internal improvement project attempted in the United States-has been largely neglected by historians. From the mid 1780s to the 1820s, this company struggled unsuccessfully to link the East Coast with the Old Northwest by enhancing the navigability of the Potomac River. In this article, Mr. Littlefield examines this little-known episode, describing how the project was overwhelmed by a combination of factors that included an unstable American economy, unreliable government aid, and interstate rivalries. He concludes that the Potomac Company's failure demonstrated how the absence of federal support could cripple a large-scale internal improvement project, and suggests that its example spurred the U.S. government to become directly involved in the economic development of the young republic.

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