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Here at Builder’s Merchant Careers, readers are invited to learn more about the merchant industry in the UK.

The Rise of Merchants in the UK

Wealthy families in Britain, such as the Rothschilds, became key players of the international economy that had emerged by 1914. They were emigrant merchants. Trading companies that emerged often had British roots.

With the British taking the lead with imperial frontiers, it acquired many resources from Latin America and Africa to feed the machine of the Industrial Revolution. Traders made connections with the British trading routes. These activities also sparked the growth of overseas banks.

Three key merchants evolved from London, Liverpool, and Glasgow. It was here that the principal trading companies were established and also interacted with one another. These merchants did not solely focus on commerce. They conducted business with storage facilities, manufacturing abroad (for example, flour mills to breweries), and produced primary products like sugar, coal, and oil).

Merchants began employing a large number of individuals. In 1917, Bird & Co.’s partnership with F.W. Heilger employed over 100,000 individuals in India. Over time, merchants increased the diversity of workers. By 1914, merchants acted as opportunists that made connections with potential British investors.

Surprisingly, by the year 1945, the list of most formidable British traders closely resembled the list in 1914. The corporate environment for the British merchants changed dramatically from the 1950s.

In the 1970s, several British merchants started to manufacture in less developed countries but were mostly unsuccessful, as they had no advantage. Towards the end of the century, surviving merchants and companies were no longer “trading companies,” and they entered other sectors such as food distribution.

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