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AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: The Crash Of 1929
Airs Tuesday, April 24, 2012 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV
Thursday, April 19, 2012
Credit: Courtesy of The Granger Collection, New York
By 1929, Charles Mitchell, President of the National City Bank (now Citibank), had popularized the idea of selling stock and high-yield bonds directly to the smaller investor. Mitchell and a very small group of bankers, brokers, and speculators manipulated the stock market, grew wealthy, and helped create the economic boom of the Twenties.
Photo Gallery: The Roaring 20s
Many Americans spent the 1920s in a great mood. Investors flocked to a rising stock market. Companies launched brand-new, cutting-edge products, like radios and washing machines. Exuberant Americans kicked up their heels to jazz music, tried crazy stunts, and supported a black market in liquor after Prohibition. A popular expression of the time asked, “What will they think of next?” Browse some photographs from “the age of permanent prosperity.”
A Selected Wall Street Chronology
Explore a timeline of events beginning with early history in 1653 up through January 7, 1931.
This film chronicles the year the boom went bust through the words and experiences of the descendants of these titans of finance. While the market was rising, presidents and economists confidently predicted America would soon enter a time when there would be no more poverty, no more depressions-a "New Era" when everyone could be rich.
Instead it was the rich who became richer. Jesse Livermore, a Wall Street insider, drove around town in one of six yellow Rolls Royces. His daughter-in-law describes his two yachts, private railway car and five homes, including an apartment on Fifth Avenue he bought to have a place where he could change clothes for the theater.
Michael Meehan was the stock specialist who manipulated the glamour stock of the day, RCA, from $2.50 a share up to a peak of over $500 a share, making millions for the few who were in on the deal. William Durant, founder of General Motors, was called “King of the Bulls.” In October of 1929, he would lose millions in a desperate, single-handed effort to stop the stock market crash.
Before the crash, the success of these men convinced small investors that the stock market was a sure thing, that Wall Street was the smart place to put one’s money. The film features the recollections of people whose families experienced the crash. Groucho Marx’s son, Arthur, remembers how his famous father detested gambling, yet put his entire life savings in stocks.
"The Crash of 1929" captures the unbounded optimism of an age, at a time when the stock market promised permanent prosperity.
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