Understanding The S&L Mess

At its roots lie fundamental tensions that have bedeviled American banking since the nation began

Bank failure is as American as apple pie. The first American failure took place in Rhode Island in 1809, when a bank capitalized at forty-five dollars issued eight hundred thousand dollars in bank notes, a sum equal to more than seventeen thousand times the resources behind it. In the 1990s the latest bank failure, alas, almost certainly took place less than a week before you began reading this article, as another savings and loan association was taken over by the government. Read more »

The Power Of Patents

For two hundred years the United States patent system has defined what is an invention and protected, enriched, and befuddled inventors. As a tool of corporate growth in a global economy, it is now more important than ever.

In a decision of far-reaching significance, a federal circuit court in 1985 ruled that the Eastman Kodak Company had infringed the instant-camera patents held by Polaroid. The court ordered Kodak to cease making and selling its own instant camera, a product on which Kodak had sunk many millions of dollars in an effort to beat out Polaroid and bolster its position as a camera and film manufacturer.Read more »

The Problem of Money and Time

Why do you need so much money to be rich nowadays? It’s a question that historians and readers of history have always found difficult to answer.

L.P. Hartley began his masterly novel The Go-Between with the words “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” No-where is this difference with the past more apparent than in the realm of getting and spending, for like most foreign countries, the past uses a money different from ours, and the historian must somehow translate its value into modern terms. Read more »

I. America’s Junction

All through the 1920s eager young emigrants left the towns and farms of America and headed for New York City. One of them recalls the magnetism of the life that pulled him there.

And still they come.

From west of the Appalachians, from the prairies of the middle border, from the shortgrass country, and from the South, young Americans troop to New York in search of fullfillment—or perhaps to get away from something. Read more »

Day of the Player Piano

It didn’t last long. But we never got over it.

The player piano came of age in America ninety years ago, and it caused an almighty stir. Within four decades it appeared to be dead. The craze dwindled, and in 1932 not a single player was shipped from the factories. But although player pianos have been manufactured only desultorily since, the machine established itself so firmly during its brief lifetime that it is impossible to find someone today who doesn’t know what a player piano is, who doesn’t remember what fun they were.Read more »

Fast Food

It began with a few people trying to get hamburgers from grill to customer quicker and cheaper. Now it’s changed the way Americans live. And whether you like it or hate it, once you get on the road you’ll eat it.

When I was ten, my brother was accepted into a college in Kansas. My parents decided to drive him out from New Jersey, using the opportunity to show both of us the countryside as we went. The year was 1963. Read more »

The Forgotten Four Hundred: Chicago’s First Millionaires

While New York families were spending fortunes inherited from fathers and grandfathers, the Chicago rich had to start from scratch, both making and lavishly spending money within one generation

 

The very rich are different from you and me, F. Scott Fitzgerald noted. It is not merely, as Ernest Hemingway wisecracked in response, that they have more money; the possession of a fortune sets them apart in other ways too. They are free to indulge their dreams; free from anxiety about bills; free from the basic burdens of a struggle for subsistence.Read more »

Rich Kids

For the children and grandchildren of a poor boy from Pennsylvania, childhood was magic

BORN IN 1839 TO AN EMIGRANT COBBLER and his wife, Henry Phipps, Jr., grew up near Pittsburgh. Determined to escape the “despised” cobbler’s bench, he succeeded, eventually becoming a partner of his boyhood neighbor, Andrew Carnegie. Phipps retired in 1900 with more than forty million dollars. Phipps had five children; Jay, his eldest son, built Westbury House on Long Island, which became the center of existence for three generations of Phippses. Read more »

A Tiffany Gift

Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner for 150 Years

SINCE NEW YORK CITY IS WHERE, AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER, MOST OF THE MONEY IN THE COUNTRY tends to migrate, it is not surprising that it seems to have almost as many jewelry stores as it does restaurants. Of these many are excellent, and a few—Cartier, Harry Winston, Van Cleef & Arpels—are grand by any standards. But only one of them has lodged itself in the national consciousness as being something beyond a purveyor of luxury goods. Read more »

Land Of The Candy Bar

It was born in America, it came of age in America, and in an era when foreign competition threatens so many of our industries, it still sweetens our balance of trade

The candy bar as we know it was born in America. So too, many centuries earlier, was chocolate itself. Mexican natives cultivated the cocoa bean for more than twenty-five hundred years before Hernán Cortés took it to Spain with him in 1528. Spanish royalty drank a cold, sweetened beverage made from the beans, but they liked it so much they kept it a secret from the rest of Europe for the remainder of the century. Not until the 1840s did a British firm, Fry and Sons, make the first chocolate bar.Read more »