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Today, it seems that business is just about the most important thing there is. Entire nations’ economies can be swayed by a single bad day of international trading, and new businesses can rise and fall at an incredible rate.

While business is incredibly important in the modern era, it was also very important to life in the 18th century. While the ways that we train for jobs, market our businesses, and engage in the entrepreneurial spirit in the modern era might seem like they would be wildly different than what folks did in the 18th century, things are quite similar across the centuries.


While you can walk into any department store and pick up just about anything you need today, mass production had yet to be invented in the 1700s. Every item sold was made by talented craftsmen and the apprentices that studied under them. Apprenticeships existed to offer an opportunity for a younger person to learn a trade and for a master of that trade to have someone to pass down their years of knowledge of the craft to. While modern workers on massive production lines enjoy safer work environments and access to more advanced technologies than their 18th-century counterparts, the art of apprenticeship is still alive today despite the general takeover of production by massive factories.


Small businesses that had a master and an apprentice in the 18th century, such as blacksmiths, coopers, brewers, and carpenters, have 21st-century counterparts that are thriving. These industries offer apprenticeships even today, allowing young individuals to get a hands-on education in a skilled trade. While the modern equivalents to these 18th-century businesses are doing quite well, many of the workers like distillers, brewers, coopers, and silversmiths are niche industries in the modern age. A new renaissance of craft is the cause of this resurgence in popularity, with consumers clamoring for items that are small batch or handcrafted.


While those that wanted to learn a skilled trade in the 18th century had to find a master of the craft to apprentice under, it doesn’t necessarily work that way in the modern era. In the 21st century, if an individual wants to learn a skilled trade, there are trade schools that offer courses, similar to a college or university, that provide all the knowledge and experience necessary — no apprenticeship required. This method of learning a craft is far less personal, and those that attend trade schools do so with large classes of other students, whereas an 18th-century craftsman would only have one or two apprentices.


Though many people like to think of marketing and advertising as a thoroughly modern invention, the roots of marketing extend back into the 18th century and even beyond. In the 18th century, marketing and advertising was all over, with leaflets, handbills, and posters widely distributed thanks to advances in the printing press that allowed for quick production. While now print advertising seems to be on its way out in favor of digital marketing, print was the best way to reach the largest amount of people in the 1700s.


Even modern business cards can be traced back to the 18th century in the form of trade cards. On modern business cards, you are likely to see a business name and contact information neatly laid out, but the trade cards of the 18th century provided far more information, not only giving the name and trade of the cardholder but illustrations depicting their services in order to be useful to illiterate customers. Business was also far more egalitarian than many assume, and there are multiple examples of savvy businesswomen’s trade cards that can be seen today.


However, even though marketing and advertising weren’t developed in the modern era, they were certainly perfected in it. Advertising copywriting has been developed over the years with the express purpose of getting readers to take action, persuading consumers to use a business’s products over a competitor’s rather than simply providing pertinent information. Modern marketing efforts rely on much more than simple printed pamphlets, opting instead to utilize SEO, marketing through social media influencers, and targeted personalized advertising based upon heaps of data to create a cohesive brand identity.


While running a business may be markedly different in the 21st century versus the 18th century, some things never change. Entrepreneurs in the 18th century had to keep accurate financial and sales records, pay taxes, and ensure that they were staying competitive in their chosen field. The entrepreneurial spirit has always existed, though the ability for any given person to start up a business has been different throughout the ages.


The 18th century saw a boom in entrepreneurs as capitalism as an economic system began to take hold in earnest. Advances in machinery and expanded global trade routes allowed for new and exciting opportunities for business, as materials that were once considered nearly impossible to obtain became much more available. Skilled entrepreneurs were able to carve out comfortable businesses for themselves during this period, many of which are still active in the 21st century.


Entrepreneurs today also rely on advanced machinery and improved trade routes. The advent of the internet and optimized supply chains have helped modern entrepreneurs create a multitude of successful businesses, often completely online. Even though many fields of business are seemingly inundated with competitors, entrepreneurs that think outside the normal conventions are capable of disrupting systems and making a successful business out of it.


While the spirit of business will never really change, the methods in which business owners operate will continue to change. Whether they are training a single apprentice or a room full of workers, posting pamphlets or conducting massive email marketing campaigns, businesses will always work in essentially the same way. Though technology has eased a lot of the issues that businesses faced in the 18th century, there are a host of new challenges that modern entrepreneurs must face when running a business.