100 Years of the Fed

6 11 2013

The public loves anniversaries. For historians interested in disseminating their research to people outside of the academy, anniversaries are “teachable moments.” The centenary of the Federal Reserve, which was created in 1913, is certainly turning into such an occasion.  For instance, the Cato Institute’s blog will be hosting a discussion this month about the Fed’s performance over the century.  This discussion at Cato Unbound has already begun with a lead essay by Gerald P. O’Driscoll. The blog will soon post Reaction Essays by Lawrence H. White (6 November); Scott Sumner (8 November), and Jerry L. Jordan (11 November).


All of these authors are libertarian, which is to be expected, since it is a Cato blog after all. I was, however, disappointed by the fact that none of these four authors are economic historians or historians. Perhaps Cato could have tried harder to find a libertarian historian or political scientist capable of writing about this topic.  Doing so would have injected a more interdisciplinary element to the discussion.


Richard E. Sylla, Henry Kaufman Professor of the History of Financial Institutions and Markets at New York University’s Stern School of Business,  has recently released a list of the top six leaders in the history of the Fed.  Sylla’s list includes William G. McAdoo,  Benjamin Strong, Marriner Stoddard Eccles, William McChesney Martin, Jr., Paul A. Volcker, and, of course, Alan Greenspan.


Benjamin Strong

Personally, I think that Strong was the most important of these individuals. Strong had a very good working relations with his counterparts in the world’s other major central banks. (He was very close to Montagu Norman at the Bank of England).

As Liaquat Ahamed has demonstrated in a recent work of popular history, Strong’s untimely death in 1928 created a vacuum and made  it difficult to coordinate an international response to the bank failures that followed the Crash of 1929. Although there are dangers in attributing too much importance to individuals in financial history, or indeed any branch of history, I think one can support the thesis that Strong was an important player and that his premature death had a greater social impact than, say, the death of Warren Harding.

Museum of American Finance: The Fed at 100

5 10 2013

The Museum of American Finance recently opened “The Fed at 100,” an exhibition commemorating the  centennial anniversary of the Federal Reserve System, featuring the Federal Reserve  Bank of New York. The exhibition will illuminate the complex workings of the US central bank, which was established 1914.

The exhibition will include a unique visitor experience  designed to provide a firsthand view of the Fed’s inner workings and position within the  federal government. Visitors will be invited to enter and explore the offices of four  people who play critical roles in designing policy and overseeing the central bank: the Chairman of the Board of Governors; a Reserve Bank president; a research assistant;  and the Chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee.
The exhibition will include an audio tour of 100 objects representing different facets of  the Fed. 
Renowned economic historians Dr. Richard Sylla and Dr. Eugene White have served as  content advisors for this exhibition.

Major support has been provided by The Adirondack Trust Company, the Chinese Museum of Finance, the Friedman Family  Foundation, Macy’s, the National Endowment for the Humanities and Tishman Speyer  Properties, LP. “The Fed at 100” will be on view through October 1, 2014.

The Museum of American Finance, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is the  nation’s only public museum dedicated to preserving, exhibiting and teaching about  American finance and financial history. It is located at 48 Wall Street.