The Birth of Corporate Governance

47 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2010 Last revised: 8 Jun 2010

See all articles by Harwell Wells

Harwell Wells

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Date Written: Winter 2010


This article examines the origins of modern debates of corporate governance. While commonly traced back to the 1932 publication of Adolf A. Berle & Gardiner Means’s The Modern Corporation and Private Property, this article argues that corporate governance became a concern decades earlier, when scholarly and popular awareness was raised about the separation of ownership and control in the modern corporation and by a related but not identical development, the dispersal of mass share ownership. Taken together, these developments led to public concern over corporate management, and a reorientation of debates over the corporation to focus on shareholder protection. By the 1920s corporate governance was the subject of vigorous public debates sparked by the reformist campaigns of Harvard economist William Z. Ripley, now best remembered as the author of the critique Main Street and Wall Street. When Berle & Means’s work appeared in 1932, it was seen as part of already ongoing debates, the latest salvo in decades-old fights over corporate governance. The perspective provided here not only explains why Berle & Means’s work was hailed as a classic, but how corporate governance became a public issue in modern America.

JEL Classification: K22

Suggested Citation

Wells, Harwell, The Birth of Corporate Governance (Winter 2010). Seattle University Law Review, Vol. 33, No. 4, p. 1247, 2010, Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper, No. 2010-12, Available at SSRN:

Harwell Wells (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

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Philadelphia, PA 19122
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