Thursday, March 12

Now That Winter is Over...

By Art Cashin

On this day in 1888, America was moving through what looked like just another day. There was a lot of talk about trading partners and religion. The partisanship in Washington looked like it could turn very ugly. And the stock market was confused by the whole thing and rather nervous. But that was years ago.

Anyway, spring was in the air in New York City and the pundits said the economic problems probably were months off. But on this day the temperature began to drop sharply on the East Coast where most folks lived. And in a matter of hours, the winds whipped up and winter weather was back. The cold snap collided with a coastal rainstorm.

It started as flurries. Then in growing, biting winds the snow began to fall. The meteorological oddity became a blizzard. Over 40 inches of snow swirled into 9-foot drifts as phone lines fell. More than 400 people died in the streets. The city ground to a halt. All contact beyond 5 miles was lost.

But it was the age of American ingenuity. So police, hospitals, (and brokers) sent messages by the new under ocean cable to London. From there they were retransmitted by another underwater cable to Boston. Thus, help was sent to a New York - - paralyzed by The Blizzard of `88.

Here's a typical paragraph from The New York Times the day after the storm: "Before the day had well advanced, every horse-car and elevated railroad train in the city had stopped running; the streets were almost impassable to men or horses by reason of the huge masses of drifting snow; the electric wires- telegraph and telephone --connecting spots in the city or opening communication with places
outside were nearly all broken; hardly a train was out from the city or came into it during the entire day; the mails were stopped, and every variety of business dependent on motion or locomotion was

Later the reporter would note that nearly 50,000 people had been stranded in stalled elevated trains.
Imagine snow and low temperatures and ultimately a great blizzard near the Ides of March. We're sure that never happened again, did it Grasshopper?

Actually it did, and does with rather annoying frequency. There have been scores of great (and usually unexpected) storms in New York and on the East Coast around the Ides of March. One of the worst within my memory was the blizzard of 1993. It ranged across the entire East Coast, from
Georgia to Maine. Airports in some locations were closed by up to four days, roofs collapsed under the weight of snow and hundreds of people died. Even with the wonder of weather satellites, it's nature that calls the tune.

This weekend, in Manhattan, we are due for a very pesky rainstorm. If the temperature were 10 or 15 degrees lower, we might be having 15 to 20 inches of snow. It apparently was not just Julius Caesar who should "beware of the Ides of March."  Pass the rock salt, please!

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

Tuesday, February 17


image =
By Art Cashin

On this day in 1405 A.D., one of history's most effective, vicious and unlikely conquerors died of overwork. He was one of a succession of Mongol warriors (and claimed to be a descendant of Genghis Khan). He began by conquering his native land, the Russian Republic we now call Uzbekistan (if you don't have a map handy it used to be called Transoxiana or more recently Soviet
Turkmenistan....there, now that its location is clear in your head let's go on).

Once he got control of the old neighborhood, he set up a capital (Samarkand....maybe you heard). He then set about overrunning and plundering all the neighboring areas. In the next 30 years, he conquered over 1/4 of the earth.

But then like most successful folks he had a system. His system was to show up at the gates of your town (with da boys) and announce - "Surrender and you may live…..Oppose me and all will die…..for each moment you take to decide I will behead ten villagers at random".....It was a remarkably effective system. And....if some folks seemed indecisive, he would build a pyramid of their skulls along the nearest trade route. Even without electronic super-highways, the message seemed to get around.

On this day in 1405 A.D., as he was planning to overrun China, exhausted, he fell ill and died. In a terrified Europe, this Mongol Hero Solider was "Tamerlane." Some think this was just a bad translation of his name among his own people....he was "Timur the Lame." He was handicapped from birth and often had to be carried on a platform into battle. In an age when the strongest, ablest and most powerful ruled....this barely educated genius used his mind not his body to rise to the top. We assume that's the last time something like that happened.

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

Tuesday, January 20

Carl Switzer, The Sad End to a Wonderful Life

By Art Cashin

On this day (+1) in 1959, a man was killed by a gunshot during a drunken brawl outside a saloon in California. Even in 1959 this was not a totally remarkable event in California. Unless, of course, the victim was a celebrity, someone that the American public might see as part of its history.

But the police report simply listed the deceased only as one Carl Switzer, a former movie actor. At the time, only grade "B" movie buffs would recognize the name. Not until a few years later, when TV tried to fill time by rerunning old Hal Roach movies, would hotshots be able to say "Hey, that's Alfalfa!" The strident singing star of a series called either "Our Gang" comedies or "The
Little Rascals." His only other notable role was as the teenager who turned the switch that opened the gym floor above the pool in Frank Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life."

Police records don't say if Carl went down singing (in screeching falsetto) "Happy Birthday Mr. Hood - Happy Birthday to Ya."

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

Friday, January 16

A Toast to Temperance

image = women of the 1920s

By Grant Davies

On this day in 1920, the US government enacted a law that sought to regulate human behavior on a scale not seen before in the country. The results were, of course, disastrous. The law was destined to fail because none of the people whose behavior it was designed to alter had any intention whatsoever of complying. And there were a lot of them.

The law in question was the National Prohibition Act, more popularly known as the Volstead Act. It gave teeth to the newly passed constitutional amendment banning the use of alcohol for recreational purposes.

But the new law didn't fail at everything. It succeeded fantastically in many ways. For instance, it worked great at turning law abiding citizens into scofflaws and common criminals. It turned run of the mill ruffians into multimillionaire booze barons. Imbecile thugs like Al Capone became business titans. It spurred employment changes as former bartenders became black market delivery men. It expanded government hiring by turning former productive citizens into enforcement officers and bribe takers.

And let's face it, it made drinking so much more fun! Getting bombed at home and falling asleep in the rocking chair was replaced by sneaking out to speakeasies where knowing secret passwords and escape routes was all the rage. Instead of snoring in that chair, men could go meet naughty girls who liked to smoke cigarettes and dance. Many didn't wear bras either, oh the possibilities.

No other government program caused so much fun to be had by such formerly boring people. Other bad laws  in the future (fill in the blank) never gave such joy. The government finally realized everyone was having too much fun and called the whole thing off in 1933. But don't worry, the government wouldn't make the same mistake twice with other intoxicating substances. They are way too wise for that.

To celebrate "Volstead Day", invite some friends over for a glass (or two) of wine on a Friday evening and propose a toast to temperance. That's what we are going to do tonight. I'd invite you to join us if I was certain you wouldn't show up.

Wednesday, January 7

Zog, King of the Bums

King Zog
image = wikipedia
By Art Cashin

On this day (+3) in 1946, the unemployment rate in the nation of Albania went up by one. No, not one percent, just one. But it was an important one.

The day before, the unemployed person had been the King of Albania. But on that day the nation became a republic, putting the king out of work. Naturally the king was disappointed. Naturally the monarchists were disappointed. And naturally the crossword puzzle editors were disappointed.

Wait! You say, the crossword puzzle editors? Yes, Virginia, the crossword puzzle editors! For the deposed King was none other than the Grand and Imperial Zog.

King Zog was a hit with the social columns even if his people thought him three pickles short of a barrel. And the cruci-verbalists just couldn't get enough of him even after he shortened his surname from Zogu to just plain Zog in 1928 (at his coronation). In fact, Zog and the Zogettes (he had several daughters) might have hung on to become the kind of Royal don'tcha knows that Charles & the late Princess Di had once seemed but in the Balkans, unfortunately, Zog had made a bad bet.

He bet that the leader of a nearby nation would be a friend and defender - but Mussolini used the friendship to conquer Albania. So when World War II ended, the people had stopped calling their king...."Zog the Wise" or "Zog the Competent" or even "Zog the Okay." They called him
"Zog the Bum" and threw him out. That meant the crossword guys would be reduced to using "ex-Balkan" leader for the three-letter clue in the corner.

That was not as much fun and thus, Zog zigged out of the papers completely.

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

Tuesday, December 30

Art Cashin and the Fifty Year Odyssey

Art Cashin
Storyteller and Trader Extraordinaire
By Grant Davies

On this day in 1964, (that's 50 years ago for you who need a calculator, phone) a young man was promoted to partner of  P.R. Herzig & Co., and became one of the youngest people ever to have a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.

But he sure didn't "take a seat" or "remain seated" over the next 50 years. His name is Art Cashin. That's right, he's the same guy who writes many of the historical posts for this site. And boy has he ever been busy over that half century.

My own involvement in the trading floor business didn't begin until four years later, so Art was a floor member on the "big board" in the "big apple" before I was even an odd lot boy on the tiny Midwest Stock Exchange in the second city. Art still has his seat and I still have mine. But mine is a recliner in my living room and his is still a membership in one of the most important and historic financial institutions the world has ever known.

Today he is director of floor operations for UBS Financial Services and he appears daily on CNBC. But somewhat more importantly (to me) he is a contributor of wonderful stories to this lilliputian blog. I have been extremely grateful to Art and UBS for allowing me to republish those great stories over the last several years and it's my hope that in some small way this blog has exposed people to his historical musings who otherwise would have never read them.

So, congratulations Mr. Cashin on your 50th anniversary on the floor of the NYSE. And thanks for informing us while entertaining us for all that time.

As he penned in this morning's Cashin's Comments, "It has been a most interesting half century." I wholeheartedly agree! The man is an institution inside an institution.

To celebrate the day, if you happen to see him in his "seat" in some historic Wall Street watering hole, scribbling trading level numbers on the famous cocktail napkins that have informed so many traders for so long, be sure to tip your hat to a Wall Street icon and thank him for the stories you have enjoyed here.

Read more about Art here.

Thursday, December 18

Chew on This Story

image = chewing gum facts
By Art Cashin

On this day in 1869, Wm. Semple of Ohio was granted a patent on a form of chewing gum. Americans had long chewed a variation of an old Indian substance - - a combination of sap and paraffin. But like many American invention, somewhere else another guy was working on the same project. In this case the somewhere else was Staten Island.

A guy named Santa Ana, who had a somewhat brief political and military career in Mexico (see “Alamo”), was trying to start a new career in his 70's. And, where is a trendier, more intellectually challenging place than Staten Island. He was hoping to produce a substitute for rubber and had brought along some chicle (itself the sap of a Mexican plant).

He showed it to a local inventor, Tom Adams, this particular sample. But try as he could Adams couldn't make a rubber substitute. So one day while he was hanging out at a drug store (the mall had not been invented yet), Adams heard a kid complain about the paraffin gum. Adams went home, soaked some chicle in licorice and kneaded it into little pellets. The druggist sold out the new sample in six hours. Shortly, America was hooked on "Adams N.Y. Gum No. 1".

To mark the day, try not to chew out an employee. Some can be very snappy. And try not to laugh when someone tells you they always thought "Chicklets" was inspired by a poultry symbol.

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.
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