Little or nothing is said of empiricism in U.S. accounting literature during the first half of the twentieth century in accounting history literature. The objectives of this study are threefold: (1) to determine if an empirical accounting literature existed prior to 1950; (2) to determine if pre-1950 empiricism was extensive enough and substantive enough to have influenced the development of accounting thought; and (3) to compare pre-1950 empirical work with contemporary academic research. It is concluded that empirics were common prior to 1950 from examining a sample (approximately forty percent) of volumes (clusters) of The Accounting Review, The Journal of Accountancy, Michigan Business Review, The American Accountant and the N.A.C.A. Bulletin. One hundred eighteen articles and eleven books and monographs are classified as “empirical” in this study.

A sample was drawn from the books and monographs and classified using several recently developed taxonomies of accounting literature. This sample included works in several accounting specializations and also included works by both academic and non-academic authors from all of the journals. The empirics found in most of the studies were essential to the studies and not peripheral. However, inferential statistics were rarely used and the designs of the studies were very primitive. The sample yielded no evidence of a transition to a contemporary hypothetico-deductive paradigm. While not common, there were attempts at “positivism.” However, the authors of most financial accounting studies were concerned with normative theory. Empiricism was extensive enough and substantive enough to have had considerable influence on normative theorists and the development of the accounting literature of the period.

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