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Profiting from History

By John Hilston

April 8, 2013 - Henry Ford, the legendary automotive entrepreneur, once said that “history is more or less bunk.”

That would be the same Henry Ford whose collection of artifacts became the much-visited Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.

Clearly a lover of history, Ford offered two criticisms in the full context of his “history is bunk” comment.

First, he offered that history is made in the present, which is kind of a “what have you done for me lately?” remark. Maybe more importantly, he vocalized the thoughts of many a bored history student when he essentially asked “why would this stuff matter to me?”

Here’s where entrepreneurship comes in:

If you help an interested individual find the past, other interested individuals might beat a path to your door and help you start and maintain a profitable history-related business.

The examples abound. has done very well. So have “throwback” athletic jersey producers and many other merchants of memorabilia that thrive on the Web. But you don’t need not go into cyberspace or be a sports fan to consume nostalgia.

Right here on the Space Coast we have the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. We also have Cocoa Village and Historic Downtown Melbourne.

KSC is now offering a great set of tours that include visits to launch pads, the launch control center and the Vehicle Assembly Building. This is local history that matters to many people from around the nation and world.

Simply put, these activities can be profitable for entrepreneurs.

However, it is also important to consider the cost side of the ledger.

In order to preserve the historic atmosphere, another level of regulation is generally imposed in historic districts. Conforming to these rules can be costly. The federal tax incentives do not always offset the costs, even if those incentives survive over the long term.

Despite this cautionary note, profit opportunities do exist in the history industry. With no apologies to Hollywood, if you build or maintain someone’s “Field of Dreams,” they will come.

Dr. John Hilston is an associate professor of economics at Brevard Community College.