Merrill Lynch & Company

           Over the course of the 20th century, courtesy of improvements in communication, and some deregulation along the way, owning shares in listed companies was transformed from a privilege of the wealthy and connected few to something almost as common as a bank account or insurance policy. Yet, in the decade after the stock market crash

Mobilizing Credit during WWII

           The Second World War not only pulled American economic output closer to its potential capacity, but also transformed its composition. War-related industries were prioritized and the production and consumption of other goods was controlled by rationing. This is fairly well known. What is less well known are the ways credit was mobilized during the war,

William Durant

           In the early days of any industry, growth requires lots of external capital. Reinvested profits, if there are any profits at all, are usually woefully insufficient to meet the growth expected by visionary founders or eager customers alike. This means the founders and executives of firms in new industries have to be capable financiers, or

Dow Jones & Co.

           Honest financial journalism is indispensable to ethical financial markets. It is hard to imagine a clean financial industry in operation if the state of its trade press was unchanged from that of the middle of the 19th century, when financial journalism could be summarized as the propagation of rumors, often with nefarious ends. The professionalization

Tobacco Money

           In the absence of metal coins or modern banknotes, commodities have been used as money. The commodities most suitable are those held in high demand by traders and merchants. In colonial America, examples of these included beads, beaver belts, and tobacco. The latter is particularly interesting not only because of its particularly broad acceptance as

From Debtors’ Prison to Bankruptcy

           Bankruptcy gives debtors a reprieve from their creditors by allowing an orderly liquidation of assets or a restructuring, often alongside a reduction or complete discharge of remaining debts. Usually a sign of financial defeat, it can be easy to forget that bankruptcy is a protection largely provided to the borrower and not the creditor. Before

American Express

           The world became more interconnected in the 19th century as railways and telegraph expanded the reach of business. By facilitating long-distance transactions, express shipping became vital to many industries, including finance. This softens any surprise accompanying the fact that two of the largest financial firms in the United States today, Wells Fargo and American Express,

John Jacob Astor

           America’s Gilded Age fortunes are infamous, but much less well known to the average person in America are its early tycoons. Like those of the late 19th century, those of the earlier part of that century benefited from opportunities obvious only in hindsight along with employing at least some questionable practices. John Jacob Astor possessed

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