America’s Frontier Forever Changed

The West the Railroads Made

Half a century after engines touched pilot to pilot at Promontory, Utah, to complete the first transcontinental railroad, the imprint of the Iron Road was nearly everywhere in the American West. Some enthusiastic real estate promoters and railway officials even claimed that the railroads invented the West—or at least the national image of the West.Read more »

Surviving Black Monday

In one day, the stock market plummeted 22 percent shortly after the author became Chairman of the Federal Reserve

I’d scrutinized the economy every working day for decades and had visited the Fed scores of times. Nevertheless, when I was appointed chairman in August 1987, I knew I’d have a lot to learn. That was reinforced the minute I walked in the door. The first person to greet me was Dennis Buckley, a security agent who would stay with me throughout my tenure. He addressed me as “Mr. Chairman.”

Without thinking, I said, “Don’t be silly. Everybody calls me Alan.”

He gently explained that calling the chairman by his first name was just not the way things were done at the Fed. Read more »

The Golden Touch

Banker J. P. Morgan rescued the dollar and bailed out the nation

On February 5, 1895, the Jupiter of American banking, J. P. Morgan, took the train from New York to Washington to see the president. He had no appointment but came to discuss matters of grave national interest. The crash of 1893 had thrown the country into deep depression, exposed a schizophrenic monetary policy, and now the nation’s gold standard stood on the brink of collapse. Read more »

The Wrong Man At The Wrong Time

For all his previous successes, President Herbert Hoover proved incapable of arresting the economic free fall of the Depression— or soothing the fears of a distressed nation

On March 4, 1929, Herbert Hoover took the oath of office as the thirty-first president of the United States. America, its new leader told the rain-soaked crowd of 50,0000 around the Capitol and countless more listening to the radio, was “filled with millions of happy homes; blessed with comfort and opportunity.”Read more »

The Central Fact Of American History

It was the nation’s biggest business, it was well organized as a Detroit assembly line, and it was here to stay. It was slavery. David Brion Davis, A lifelong student of the institution, tells how he discovered—and then set about teaching—its vast significance.

“THE MAIN EVENT”

I have long believed that what most distinguishes us from all other animals is our ability to transcend an illusory sense of now , of an eternal present, and to strive for an understanding of the forces and events that made us what we are. Such an understanding seems to me the prerequisite for all human freedom.

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Land Of The Free Trade

Foreign trade—import and export alike—has been indispensable in building America from the very start, and many of our worst economic troubles have arisen when that trade wasn’t free enough. A historic overview.

It is not a coincidence that Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations and what would one day be the world’s wealthiest nation should both have burst upon the global scene in 1776. Read more »

Cold Mine

Not long ago, while I was in the midst of preparations for an exhibition on early American trade with India, an extraordinary memento of that trade serendipitously appeared at the Peabody Museum of Salem in Massachusetts. Anne Halliday, a retired social worker from Cape Cod, brought in a large, ornate, inscribed silver-gilt presentation cup that had been in her family for many years.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 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 »

The Short, Dramatic Life Of The Steamboat Yellow Stone

She lived only six years, but it was a history-packed career

Old rivermen used to talk of the first time the steamboat Yellow Stone reached the fur-trading posts on the upper Missouri. Belching smoke, roaring like a cannon, and spurting steam into the air, she penetrated farther up the river than a boat under its own power had ever gone before. Her owner, John Jacob Astor, never saw her, although from his New York office he sent fleets of ships on trading missions from Liverpool to Canton.Read more »