Arthur D. Little, Inc., for many years one of the largest and most diversified consultancies in the world, was founded in 1886. The firm had its origins in a partnership formed by two chemists, Arthur D. Little and Roger B. Griffin. Little attended MIT 1881-1884, where he studied chemistry and edited the student newspaper, The Tech. Leaving MIT in 1885 he went to work at the Richmond Paper Company in Rumsford, Rhode Island, the first sulfite paper mill in the United States. He was hired as a chemist, but was soon made superintendent and became expert in the new sulfite process for making paper. Griffin, a graduate of the University of Vermont and a skilled analytical chemist, was hired to replace Little when he was sent to start up a second sulfite pulp and paper mill in North Carolina. When Little returned, the two men worked together and in a short time began their own business.
Little and Griffin opened an office and laboratory at 103 Milk Street, Boston, with Griffin as the lab man and Little in charge of sales. The company's initial activities were largely in chemical analyses and testing, and consultation on papermaking. Both men were interested in what they referred to as “investigations for the improvement of processes and the perfection of products,” and Little tried hard to find potential customers for long-term, significant applied research.
Although hardly prosperous, the business did survive. Much of their work was routine analysis, but it was a few paper mill clients that kept them alive, and each year their income grew a little and their reputation a great deal. Twice the firm moved to bigger quarters and built up a small staff of carefully chosen specialists. Together Griffin and Little worked on the manuscript for The Chemistry of Paper-making, for many years the authoritative text on the subject. But the book was only partially completed when Roger Griffin was killed in a laboratory accident in 1893. Little carried on the business alone for a number of years.
During these years Little founded the Cellulose Products Company and demonstrated that cellulose acetate could be used in producing nonflammable wire insulation and artificial silk. The venture was not a financial success, but its accomplishments were considerable. When the firm was dissolved, its results were distributed among several firms: Eastman Kodak purchased the patents for the first nonflammable motion picture film, and the Lustron Company bought the artificial silk patents and was, for many years, the only American manufacturer of acetate silk.
In 1900 Little formed a second partnership with William H. Walker, instructor in analytical chemistry at MIT. The new partnership moved to 7 Exchange Place in Boston, and the firm of Little & Walker continued for five years. In, 1905, however, when MIT opened its Research Laboratory of Applied Chemistry with Dr. Walker in charge, Walker left to assume full-time duties at the Institute and the partnership was dissolved. Little was again on his own, and in 1909 the firm was formally incorporated as Arthur D. Little, Inc. (ADL).
As the scope of the company's activities broadened, specialists were added to the staff and departments were formed. More significant than actual size was the increased diversity of work done. One of the earliest outstanding assignments outside of routine testing and analysis was for General Motors Corporation in 1911 when ADL organized, staffed, and put into operation General Motors' first centralized research department.
Among the more interesting projects of the period were several which unmasked hoaxes. One of these involved a scheme to generate electricity directly by the oxidation of carbon electrodes. Some $5,000,000 had been committed to the venture which, in theory at least, seemed plausible. The apparatus turned out a respectable amount of power, but it also turned out that the inventor had bypassed a number of technical difficulties by drawing his power, through ingenious attachments on the “bushings” of the generator, from the regular power lines.
In 1916 ADL undertook for the Canadian Pacific Railway a series of surveys of the natural resources of Canada and their industrial potential. This activity was one of the earliest and most important in that field. An office was opened in Montreal, and Arthur D. Little Ltd. of Canada came into being. Before the work was over, 165 separate studies had been completed and, in a sense, ADL had become an international operation.
In 1917, ADL moved again, this time to a building of its own at 30 Memorial Drive in Cambridge, alongside the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. By 1918 the company had conducted 16,287 investigations. Most of these were analytical in nature, but some also involved entire processes, for example, the production of alcohol from wood waste and the recovery of turpentine and rosin from pine stumps.
The growth of research-based industry, which had been stimulated by the First World War, and had continued during the twenties, was slowed down by the depression. Arthur D. Little remained head of the company until his death in 1935. After his death the company continued along the paths Little had pioneered, with Earl P. Stevenson as president.
During World War II the staff of ADL worked on projects as varied as the design of a compression still for distilling water (Kleinschmidt still), flame throwers, incendiary bombs, protection against attack by flame, wound healing ointments, surface coatings, and food modifications.
After the war, the company continued its research and engineering activities and expanded its interests in new directions. Primary among these were the investigation and evaluation of overall technological aspects of various industrial situations. This work led the company into the broad area of systems research and analysis. The company continued to carry out consulting contracts for industry, state and federal agencies, and many foreign governments, especially those in the developing countries. Its interests ranged from pure science research through engineering to the systematic planning of large economic developments in all their technological, social, and political aspects.
Beginning in the 1960s, as part of research for the Apollo program, ADL developed much of the instrumentation for the lunar experiments. The company continued to assist NASA on projects designed to expedite the commercialization of space and further assert its leadership in exploiting opportunities in space.
ADL also advanced American objectives in the Third World through economic development by transferring technology in a variety of ways, including the operation of an accredited graduate school of business management, the Arthur D. Little Management Education Institute, Inc., directed to the needs of developing nations.
Around 1972, staff members with common professional interests were organized into new or consolidated professional units such as energy economics, transportation and management economics, telecommunications systems, environmental services, and organization development. The company's multi-disciplinary approach typically led it into a wide range of projects, and also into unusually thorough explorations of subjects. For example, one ADL team found a way to store energy, which led to the formation of a team of ADL construction engineers who adapted the technique so that it could be used to heat and cool residential and industrial buildings. This development, in turn, led to the formation of a third unit that analyzed the government's options as to a future solar energy policy.
At any specific moment, the company had approximately 1,000 cases or projects under way. Some of the projects required the skills of only a few employees while others required the work of as many as fifty scientists, engineers, technicians, and other supporting staff. The range of disciplines was impressive. From bio-environmental systems to telecommunications sciences, statistics to energy economics, operations research to literature research.
By the 1980s the company saw the need to exploit technology to solve problems created by pollution and also the lack of energy resources and the need to conserve energy.
ADL's affiliated and subsidiary companies included Arthur D. Little Decision Resources; ADL Management Education Institute, Inc.; Arthur D. Little Program Systems, Inc.; Delphy Associates, Inc.; Opinion Research Corporation; Pilgrim Health Applications, Inc.; the S. M. Stoller Corporation; and Uranium Supply Service Corporation.
Internationally, the company was represented by Arthur D. Little of Canada Limited; Arthur D. Little Limitada in Latin America; Arthur D. Little International, Inc., throughout Europe and the Middle East; Cambridge Consultants Limited in England; and in the Far East, Arthur D. Little, Inc.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, however, a change in the business environment and a slowdown in the management and technology consulting industry hit Arthur D. Little, Inc. On February 5, 2002, the firm filed for bankruptcy and its assets were sold to five separate companies. Global Management Consulting and Global Environment & Risk divisions of Arthur D. Little were sold to Altran Technologies of France; Chemical and Energy Ventures to Charles River Associates of Boston; Technology and Innovation to TIAX; Public Sector Program Management to IRC Consulting; and Advanced Energy Systems to Navigant Consulting, Inc. of Chicago.
Arthur D. Little was a pioneer in the consulting industry in the 1880s. His operating principles stressed technical excellence, commitment to the client's success, leadership in areas of expertise, and a challenging and fulfilling work environment for the company's staff. The company gained an unmatched reputation for excellence by devising novel solutions to challenging problems, developing new techniques, and leading the way in management systems development.
This account is drawn from various historical pieces in the Arthur D. Little, Inc. collection in the MIT Institute Archives & Special Collections. Many were written in preparation for anniversary celebrations and can be found in Series III, boxes 1-3, and in Series VII.