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Echoes Dispatches From Economic History

Marc Levinson

The Year That Changed Retailing Forever

over 3 years ago

Attention, discount shoppers! It's time for a celebration. This spring, Americans mark half a century of discount retailing -- or would mark it, if they weren't so busy shopping.

Discounting doesn't really have a birth date; the idea that a store can move more goods by knocking down the price is as old as retailing itself. But this spring marks the 50th anniversary of a discounting revolution that helped shape modern retailing.


Philip Scranton

How Cactus Jack Swayed the 1932 Election

almost 4 years ago
Echoes: 5/14

“Cactus Jack” was not your typical presidential candidate.

Born in a Texas log cabin in 1868, John Nance Garner dropped out of Vanderbilt University after one semester and returned home, where he studied law. He gained admission to the bar in 1890 and secured appointment to a vacant county judgeship.

That Wonderful Mother of Mine

This year, consumers are expected to spend $18.6 billion on Mother's Day, an increase of 8 percent from last year, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation. The holiday is a major boon to confectioners, card makers, florists and the restaurant industry. And it's certainly popular among moms: The average consumer expects to spend more than $150 on them this year.

The woman who invented Mother's Day would be livid.


Kirsten Salyer

Weekly Links

almost 4 years ago

History News Network on how Mormon history has shaped Mitt Romney
The Levy Economics Institute on an alternative history of money
The University of Gothenburg on the origins of the Sicilian mafia
The American Numismatic Society on an exhibit about the history of inflation at the New York Fed 
Felix Salmon on the decline of venture capitalism
Marginal Revolution on the "growth of justice" in the U.S.

Read more from Echoes, Bloomberg View's economic history blog, online.


Maury Klein

How Railroads Changed American Businesses

almost 4 years ago
Echoes: Railroads

On May 10, 1869, the tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad (extending from Omaha, Nebraska) and the Central Pacific Railroad (extending from the San Francisco Bay area) met in an obscure area of Utah Territory called Promontory Summit, after five years of arduous and often acrimonious construction.

A golden spike was driven to celebrate their joining.


Kenneth D. Ackerman

Boss Tweed’s Bondholder Revolt

almost 4 years ago
Echoes: 5/9

How can excessive debt sink a government? Look no further than New York -- in 1871, under the leadership of the eminently corrupt William M. Tweed.

Today, the U.S. government owes some $15.2 trillion. Its largest group of public creditors comprises foreigners and foreign governments, led by China and Japan. Overseas creditors hold $5.1 trillion in U.S. paper and continue to be big buyers at Treasury auctions. What would happen in the (still unlikely) event they stopped buying?


George Selgin

When Entrepreneurs Privatized the Penny

almost 4 years ago
Echoes: Mint

(Corrects name of beverage in first paragraph.)

Our poor penny. Half a century ago, it was a respectable, if humble, piece of money. Just one could buy all sorts of candy or a postcard; three might buy a cherry cola or a newspaper.


Philip Scranton

France’s Foreboding 1932 Elections

almost 4 years ago
French President Doumer shot by assassin

In April 1932, a struggle over trade policy between France and the U.S. was put on hold for the French election, which would mark a significant shift in the country’s economic and political position.

Although French imports had fallen by about 40 percent in a year, exports had dropped further, yielding a deficit of almost 1 billion francs per month. The French created quotas for incoming goods and raised tariff rates to encourage the purchase of domestic substitutes, retaliating for the 1930 U.S. tariff increases.


David O. Stewart

The Violent, Scandalous Origins of JPMorgan Chase

almost 4 years ago
Echoes: 5/3

Americans like to imagine that the Founding Fathers were virtuous and civic-minded giants bestriding the continent. But many of them kept a sharp eye on the main chance, alert to opportunities for personal profit.

The birth of the mega-bank JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) may be traced to two such figures: Aaron Burr, the dark star of America’s early years, and his longtime nemesis, Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the Treasury.


Molly Olney-Zide

How Secretary Manuals Were Oddly Empowering

almost 4 years ago
Echoes: Secretary

In the 1945 edition of Remington Rand’s "How to Be a Super-Secretary," the stunning Betty Grable poses on the front cover dressed as an "ideal" secretary would.

The tips the publication included on how to dress and act "lady-like" at work might make professional women of today shudder. Preceded with the caveat that these hints are ones "your boss will never tell you," secretaries are encouraged to be beautiful in looks and actions, hide personal matters, and pass credit for originating good ideas to the boss.


Alasdair Roberts

Can Occupy Wall Street Replace the Labor Movement?

almost 4 years ago
Solidarity Day Protest

When protesters settled in New York's Zuccotti Park in September, few anticipated how big a phenomenon the Occupy Wall Street movement would become. Soon, dozens of encampments were established around the world.

A month later, the majority of Americans knew about the movement and supported its goals. It seemed that a new form of political action -- youthful, tech-savvy and decentralized -- had scored a major victory. Inequality was back on the agenda.

Vassar College Class of 1934 Graduation Photograph

As the graduation season neared in the spring of 1932, journalist and Smith College alumna Eunice Fuller Barnard assessed the prospects for women exiting American colleges for an uncertain job market.

These weren’t just a few wealthy co eds; tens of thousands of women annually graduated from institutions of higher education at the time. And they were no longer confined to small, elite Eastern women’s schools. Barnard informed the New York Times and Scribner’s Magazine that some 500,000 “girls” now attended U.S. colleges and normal schools, which trained graduates to be teachers. About 80,000 of them would receive degrees in May commencements.


Louis Hyman

The First Time Mortgage-Backed Securities Failed

almost 4 years ago
Echoes: Mortgage-Backed Securities

During World War I, as cities pulled every young man who wasn't a doughboy into their factories, the U.S. became an urban nation.

After the war, there was a sharp and short depression in 1920 from which the cities quickly recovered, but rural America did not. That year, the census recordeed more people living in cities than in the country. Returning soldiers looked for work in the cities rather than return home. And all those people needed somewhere to live.


Kristin Aguilera

What Was the Very First Hedge Fund? Ask Warren Buffett

almost 4 years ago
Echoes: The First Hedge Fund

The legendary economist and investor Benjamin Graham is widely known as the father of value investing. He may also be the father of the hedge-fund industry.

While most historians and industry professionals credit Alfred Winslow Jones with launching the first hedge fund in 1949, some people, including Graham’s protege, Warren Buffett, disagree.


Philip Scranton

An Assembly of the Discontented

almost 4 years ago
Hunger Marchers

“It is just a well-organized, semi-hysterical assembly of the discontented.”

Thus did the New York Times’s Frederick Birchall dismiss the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei in late March 1932. But the Nazi Party’s power was growing.


R. Daniel Wadhwani

Origins of the Indebted American Homeowner

almost 4 years ago
Equitable Mortgage Company

Not long after the economic crisis began, the president's landmark Conference on Homeownership reported that "down payments of 10 percent, 5 percent, and even nothing down" had become common practice in the home-mortgage market. Reliance on second mortgages and novel financing terms, the report noted, were also widespread.

Although these developments sound all too familiar, this Conference on Homeownership was held in 1931 and the president sponsoring it was Herbert Hoover, not George W. Bush or Barack Obama. We often think of the expansion of easy mortgage financing as a relatively recent development, but the growth of indebted homeownership has older and more complicated origins.


Robert E. Wright

Wall Street’s First Panic Shows Wisdom of Bagehot Rule

almost 4 years ago
Uploaded by UUID:6697267 at 4/19/2012 1:32 PM

On April 19, 1792, a Manhattan securities speculator named William Duer sought protection from his creditors. Literally. A mob of several hundred of them formed, seeking a rough form of justice.

“We will have Mr. Duer,” they chanted. “He has gotten our money.” Not very catchy, even by the standards of the day. But the mob dispersed only after the sheriff appeared and made clear that he would protect Duer, with force if necessary.


About Echoes

Echoes is Bloomberg View's economic history blog. It is edited by Stephen Mihm, an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia and the author, with Nouriel Roubini, of "Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance," and of "A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men and the Making of the United States."

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