Friday, December 20

Rockefeller Christmas Tree - 1931

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By Art Cashin

On this day (+3) in 1931, America was spiraling into the depths of the Depression. Thousands of banks had closed and there was a national panic that more closings might be imminent. And large corporations announced huge layoff programs, stunning many who thought they were safe. Those who had a job were grateful just to be employed.

Among those were a group of construction workers in New York City. As they stood amidst the rubble of demolished buildings in midtown Manhattan, they talked of how lucky they were that some rich guy had hired them for a new but risky development. And, since it was near Christmas, they decided to celebrate the fact that they had a job.

They got a Christmas tree from a guy in a lot on the corner who apparently had discovered that folks with apartments suitable for 18 foot trees were not too free with the green pictures of dead presidents in 1931. So the workers stood the big tree up in the rubble and decorated it with tin cans and other items on the lot.

A photographer saw it as a perfect symbol of 1931. It caught on immediately and each Christmas as the project proceeded a new tree was put up. And even after the project (Rockefeller Center) was completed, management put up a new (and much bigger) tree each year.

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 10

Esther was Morris but Bill wasn't Bright

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By Art Cashin

On this day in 1869, the new Wyoming territory officially gave women the right to vote. The concept was so stunning that when Wyoming became a state twenty-one years later some folks proudly opted for the nickname - - "Equality State". In fact the state motto is "Equal Rights". And, when Congress asked each state for the single statue of its key citizen, Wyoming sent to Statuary Hall in the Capitol none other than Esther Morris, the mother of women's suffrage in the West.

Not to diminish the enlightened attitude of the frontier - - but some New York cynics think the women won by knowing what women always knew - - guys tend to overplay their hand.

Mrs. Morris (she was not yet P.C. enough to know Ms.) had convinced a candidate for the other legislature, named Bill Bright, to promise the right to vote for women. To his - - and most politicians surprise - - he got elected. He then did the manly thing - - he told his pals he had promised this woman something but it didn't matter because the Republican Gov. (Campbell) would surely veto it. When they passed the vote, the governor, fearing a petticoat backlash did the manly thing - - he refused to veto it. Thus, in Wyoming, women got the right to vote because men do what men have always done for about 50,000 years.

To celebrate stay out as late as your wife will let you, and try not to talk too macho to a meter-maid. And think about the concept of women's suffrage - - but don't think too loud - -women sense these things.

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.

Wednesday, December 4

Duryea Wins America's First Car Race

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By Grant Davies

On this day, (okay, it was on Thanksgiving day, but I'm still catching up) 118 years ago, (put away those smart phone calculator apps; that's 1895) the first car race in America was held in Chicago. The race was won by Frank Duryea. He drove a gas powered automobile of his brother's design.

The race was organized by a newspaper, the Chicago Times-Herald. But the way it was organized was more akin to the way a government organizes a healthcare website. The whole thing was a mess.

On the day of the race -which was supposed to be from Chicago to Waukegan, Illinois, and back- the distance was shortened. Instead, Evanston, Illinois was selected as the midpoint in the round trip. The distance was cut roughly in half, to about fifty miles.

The reason was the weather. As it turned out, eight inches of snow were being dumped on the route by a massive blizzard and whoever was in charge figured out that if no one finished the race there would be no winner. And since the whole affair was cooked up in order to promote automobile sales, it must have seemed like a poor idea to show how unreliable the product was in such weather.

So instead of postponing the race, the geniuses just shortened it. Anyway, the predictable happened when only six of the eighty-nine contestants were able to even show up at the starting line. Everyone was required to wrap their tires in twine to aid traction. Safety first, ya know.

Almost as soon as the race started two of the cars conked out permanently. They were electric cars, which only goes to show the reliability of such vehicles hasn't changed much in 118 years. So off the rest went into the blizzard, sliding into all manner of other conveyances and dropping out one by one. It took in the neighborhood of ten hours for Duryea to cross the finish line. Which just might be about the same speed as today if you drove in rush hour on one of the "expressways."

Frank left his only surviving competitor in the dust, er, the snow. Winning by almost two hours over the only other finisher earned the Duryea brothers the grand prize of $2000, quite a tidy sum in 1895. But more importantly, they grabbed the glory and with it an astounding victory in the sales wars of the coming year. They sold more cars than anyone else in the car business in that year, thirteen.

Today they probably would have been considered "too big to fail", taken over by the government, and forced to manufacture electric cars that nobody wants to buy.

This story was based on information found at 

Monday, December 2

The Goldwyn Rule

By Art Cashin

On this day in 1940, one of the great movie moguls (and manglers of the English language) added one more whacky phrase to his murdering of the stepmother tongue. He was, of course, Samuel Goldwyn, a Polish immigrant who made some of the great movies of all time.

He was the Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel of his day, pouring out tons of phrases that caused intellectual whiplash. (My favorite, "Anyone who goes to see a psychiatrist should have his head examined.") Anyway, on this day, as his aides presented a proposal for a joint venture, Goldwyn thought for a minute than said - - "You can include me out".

If Goldwyn had survived until now, he might have become the global spokesman for the recent crisis. From bank lending officers to consumers in the holiday shopping malls, everybody seems to be saying - - include me out.

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.

We are also thankful to Mr Cashin for carrying the load recently while the editor dealt with a health issue. Semi-regular, and dreadfully written, stories from the editor will resume shortly.
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