This article examines the institutionalization of public finance as a subfield of economics in American universities from the founding of professional academic economics departments in the 1880s through the eve of the Great Depression. It is argued that what became identified as the accepted domain of public finance was fundamentally shaped by the Progressivism of leading practitioners, in particular Richard T. Ely, H. C. Adams, and E. R. A. Seligman. Considered is the development of a community of scholars recognized as specialists in public finance and the professionalization of public finance as a distinct field within economics. This includes examination of the subject’s definition, its boundaries, and the types of analyses undertaken. Academic training, including courses and readings, at Columbia, Chicago, Harvard, and Wisconsin is compared.

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