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Name That Downturn!

June 11, 2009 • History Factory

In trying to give today’s economy some historical context, many have cited the Great Depression. We’re guilty of it, as is the media at large. After all, it’s the biggest, most impressive example of financial failure around—and one that most people, even those who dozed through history in high school, have heard of.

But it’s hardly America’s only flirtation with economic disaster. The 19th century rarely managed to go a decade or two without a panic cropping up in some sector or another and spreading quickly to the wider economy. And the 20th century has had no shortage of downturns beyond the big one.

So why don’t more of these get mentioned? Probably because most of us would need Google—or a good history book—to work out the difference between the Panic of 1819 and the Panic of 1907. But if you think you’re up to the challenge, check out Bad Money Advice and take this quiz: This Time It’s Not Different. We’re not awarding prizes for top scores, but feel free to share your results.

If you pass with flying colors, here’s one more question for you. What year is being portrayed in the following description of real estate speculation?

A good deal of valuable time was wasted in making diagrams of hypothetical cities. Eligible corner lots were marked out, showing the exact site—as near as might be—of future hotels, warehouses, factories, and all the other adjuncts that attest the march of civilization.

Need a hint? The writer goes on to pronounce, with great optimism for the future, that “the bank system of this period was probably one of the most vicious of modern times, if not, indeed, of any time.”

That would be 1837, a disastrous year for business that nonetheless saw the birth of successful enterprises such as John Deere & Company, Proctor & Gamble, and luxury retailer Tiffany & Co.


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