Surprisingly, it’s a virtually untold story until now: a made-in-Detroit saga, little known because family-owned R.L. Polk & Co. never sold public stock, never published quarterly sales and profits. But it was a true American trailblazer in establishing information itself as a highly valuable product.
It’s a story of innovation, entrepreneurship and reinvention; a nation discovering and learning about itself as its industries find better, faster ways to compile, analyze and disseminate key information.
R.L. Polk pioneered what we today call Big Data, more than 80 years before IBM shipped its first computer. Ralph Lane Polk II is enshrined in both the Automotive and Direct Marketing halls of fame.
Known chiefly in modern times for its vast automotive data and analytics, R.L. Polk had become the nation’s largest publisher of city directories before automobiles were mass produced.
Once the Automobile Age arrived and transformed American notions of freedom and commerce, Polk emerged as the premier provider of data on automotive sales, pricing, tastes and marketing for the industry’s first 100 years.
And when General Motors and Chrysler collapsed into the arms of Uncle Sam in 2009, President Barack Obama’s auto task force summoned R.L. Polk executives to Washington D.C., in 2009 for advice as Obama decided whether and how to save or restructure the companies.