NBER WORKING PAPER SERIES
HISTORICAL FACTORS IN LONG RUN GROWTH
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE THE UNITED STATES TO
BECOME AN OPTIMAL CURRENCY AREA?
Historical Paper 124
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
How Long Did It Take the United States to Become an Optimal
I. The Troubled History of the American Monetary Union
The U.S. monetary union began with the ratification of the Constitution in
1788. It has remained intact, with the exception of the Civil War years, ever since.
And the United States has grown and prospered during that time. But it does not
follow that the United States has grown and prospered because it has had a monetary
union. The benefits of the monetary union – the relative ease with which interregional
movements of capital, labor, and final products could take place – are evident. The
costs of the monetary union, that I intend to focus upon here, are less evident, but
Throughout the first 150 years of the U.S. monetary union, at least, the United
States was wracked repeatedly by bitter regional disputes over monetary policies and
institutions. On more than one occasion, those disputes contributed to uncertainty
about the future of policies and institutions that exacerbated economic disturbances,
and contributed to mistakes in national monetary policy. Regional disputes over
monetary policy arose because of real differences in regional interests: What was
good monetary policy from the point of view of one region, was sometimes bad policy
from the point of view of another. The most bitter disputes arose when adverse
monetary reactions occurred in a region already suffering from a real shock. A decline
in the demand for agricultural products, for example, would depress incomes, leading
in turn to a round of bank failures and bank runs, and declining regional money
supplies, that reinforced the effect of the initial shock. In short, an economic historian
who is looking for illustrations of the cost of relinquishing monetary autonomy can
find them in abundance in the monetary history of the United States.
Before turning to the history, however, I want to briefly summarize the theory
of optimum currency areas to provide the necessary background for the remainder of
II. The Theory of Optimal Currency Areas
The optimum currency area hypothesis grew out of the debate over fixed vs.
flexible exchange rates. Milton Friedman (1953), Leland Yeager (1959), and others
had argued that a country could be better off by allowing its currency to float, and
reserving domestic monetary policy for price or employment stability. The advocates
of flexible exchange rates had recognized that a country could be too small to profit
from flexible rates. But it was Robert Mundell, who first used the term “Optimum
Currency Area” in a famous paper published in 1961, who clarified the circumstances
under which a region or country would benefit from joining a monetary union.1 On
the one hand, Mundell argued, there were advantages for a region that joined a
monetary union derived from minimizing transaction costs. On the other hand there
were disadvantages derived from giving up the exchange rate, and changes in the
stock of money, as policy tools. Whether a particular region constituted an optimal
currency area or whether it would be better off as part of a larger monetary union
depended on the net sum of these costs and benefits.
1 Other important early contributions were McKinnon (1963), Kennen
(1969), and Tower and Willet
(1976). Kawai (1992) provides a clear summary.
The benefits of a larger monetary union are usually fairly easy to see, although
measuring them can be difficult. People can travel to one part of the country to
another without having to convert their money; prices of products sold in distant
regions can be compared without having to search for information or perform
calculations, and interregional investments can be made without the risk of currency
The costs of joining a monetary union are less obvious, and will depend on a
number of factors. Consider first, the case in which economic activity is distributed
randomly throughout the monetary union. Then the monetary authority need pay little
attention to regions. What is optimal for one part of the country will be optimal for
another. But suppose that the monetary union is divided into two regions, say East
and West, that specialize in producing different goods, say steel and wheat. Now it is
possible for there to be significant shifts in demand between the regions. The demand
for steel might go up, while the demand for wheat is going down. To use the modern
jargon, the country might be subject to asymmetric shocks. The West will run a
balance of payments deficit with the East. Reserves will flow from West to East, and
the stock of money in the West will fall, aggravating the recession caused by the
decline in the demand for wheat. The stock of money in the East will rise, adding to
the boom caused by the increase in the demand for steel. It is no longer clear that
what is good for one region is good for all. The West might be better off with a
national monetary policy that aimed to restore full employment, while the East might
want a policy directed toward price stability.
If labor and capital are mobile across regions, then the impact of asymmetric
shocks will be limited. Labor, for example, will respond to the shift in demand by
moving from West to East, from wheat production and into steel production. The
monetary authority will be able to neglect the problem of unemployment and focus on
price stability. But now suppose that barriers to labor and capital mobility exist
among regions, and assume further that monetary policy can affect real magnitudes in
the short-run, say because certain prices or wages are sticky. Then the monetary
authority faces a real dilemma. If the monetary authority follows a policy consistent
with price stability in the East, it might aggravate the recession in the West; if it tilts
full against the recession in the West, it might produce inflation in the East.
The East and West, to put it slightly differently, would be better off with
separate currencies, and floating or at least adjustable rates between them. When
demand shifted from the West to the East, the western currency would depreciate,
mitigating the effects of the decline in demand. Meanwhile the monetary authority in
the East could follow a policy aimed at price stability.
This is essentially the theory as originally developed by Mundell. The story
depends on imperfections in capital and labor markets, and price and wage stickiness.
As we move from the world of Keynesian or classic Monetarist economics, where
monetary policy has important short-run effects, to assumptions of perfect labor and
capital mobility and ineffective monetary policy, the case for subdividing economic
regions into separate currency areas weakens. Nevertheless, as a number of writers
have argued, a case for separate currencies may remain (Willett and Wihlborg, 1999).
For example, even if all factor markets cleared, a separate currency area could be
justified if non-optimal policies were being followed outside the area. A flexible
exchange rate then would prevent the importation of non-optimal price level
movements. In any case, I believe, as I will try to show below, that American
monetary history offers important examples of regional monetary trends exacerbating
the effects of asymmetric real shocks. Before turning to those examples, however, I
want to briefly recount the origins of the American monetary union and the regional
conflicts that afflicted it during its formative years.
Prior to the Revolution the currency of the United States varied from colony to
colony. The British pound, and other forms of hard currency such as the Spanish peso
were accepted everywhere. But individual colonies also tried to make their own paper
currencies legal tenders in order to provide revenues or to aid debtors. Under the
Articles of Confederation (during the interregnum between the end of the Revolution
and the Constitution) opinion, especially among the politically sophisticated, turned
against paper money. The constitution prohibited the states from issuing “bills of
credit” (paper money) and gave to Congress the exclusive right to “coin money” and
“establish the value thereof,” thus creating a monetary union based on specie.
Part of the opposition to paper money was based on the experience of the very
high rates of inflation under the fiat paper money regime of the Revolution. Tom
Paine, for example, went from being an advocate of paper money to an opponent
(Schweitzer 1989, p. 315) after witnessing the Revolutionary inflation. Opposition to
paper money was increased by the development of fractional reserve banking, and the
hope that bank notes would provide the convenience of government issued paper
without the risk of overissue.
There was also an important regional dimension to the opposition to state
issued paper money. Rapid deflation after the Revolution had left farmers with heavy
debt burdens. In the western counties of many states, where agriculture predominated,
demands for debt and tax relief became insistent. States attempted to handle the
problem in various ways. Some, such as Massachusetts, followed a get-tough policy
with farmers who refused to pay. In many of these states farmers took up arms. The
most serious outbreak of violence was in Massachusetts where Shays’ Rebellion was
crushed in 1787. Other states, such as Rhode Island, tried to help farmers by issuing
legal-tender paper money and insisting that creditors accept it, even if they were
residents of other states. While such policies pacified western farmers, they increased
tensions among the states. It is conceivable that interstate tensions, such as those that
arose between Rhode Island and its neighbors, could have been resolved by a clause
in the Constitution requiring states to keep their currencies at par. But this would still
leave room for some states to increase their seignorage by expanding their currencies
and allowing them to circulate outside their own borders. Thus, a monetary union was
viewed as a necessary prerequisite for a political union (Rolnick, Smith, and Weber,
The Constitution appeared to settle the debate between those states that would
have used monetary policy to help western farmers and those that would not. But the
issue reemerged in the debates over the First and Second Banks of the United States.
The First Bank of the United States was chartered in 1791. It was part of Alexander
Hamilton’s plan for reorganizing the finances of the new government. Modeled to
some extent on the Bank of England, it was intended to be a large bank, with a
national branching system, that would help manage the new government’s finances,
and issue a paper money of uniform value (in part because it would be a legal tender)
in all parts of the country. The term of the charter was limited to twenty years. When
the charter came up for renewal in 1811 there was substantial opposition. Most of the
opposition to the Bank, at least measured by the formal arguments against it, centered
on the constitutionality of the Bank. The upshot was that the attempt to renew the
charter failed, and the Bank was forced to wind up its affairs.
The monetary disturbances associated with the War of 1812 revived interest in
a national bank. Such a bank, it was hoped, would pressure state banks into
contracting their note issues and resuming specie payments. The Second Bank of the
United States was established in 1816, again with a charter limited to twenty years.
The Second Bank was similar to the First, but its capital was larger.
Although financial historians have often written favorably about the Second
Bank, its career ended disastrously in the famous “Bank War.” The Bank War pitted
the Second Bank, led by its President, the aristocratic Philadelphian Nicholas Biddle,
against an opposition led by the first President from West of the Alleghenies, Andrew
Jackson. Not all eastern politicians sided with Biddle and the Bank. In New York, in
particular, it was hoped that the Second Bank of the United States would be replaced
by a Third Bank of the United States with headquarters in New York City rather than
Philadelphia. And not all western politicians supported Jackson. Davy Crockett, a
Congressman who represented poor farmers from western Tennessee (and King of the
Wild Frontier!), supported the Bank. (Shackford, 1986, passim).2
however, the Bank’s opponents were from the West and its supporters from the East.
The exact reasons for Jackson’s opposition to the Bank are still a matter of
dispute. Jackson was first elected in 1828. His outspoken criticism of the Bank began
soon after, and led to an attempt to renew the Bank’s charter before Jackson came up
for his second election in 1832. The bill to renew the charter passed both houses of
Congress, but was vetoed by Jackson. The veto message has been the subject of
intense scrutiny and debate by historians. Jackson cited a number of reasons for
vetoing the bill to recharter the Bank: foreigners held a considerable amount of stock
(although they could not vote, a fact he failed to notice), a competition for the charter
would produce more revenues for the Treasury, and so on.
But the interesting point from our perspective is that Jackson stressed that the
Bank was controlled by Eastern moneyed interests, and had followed policies harmful
to western farming interests. Jackson’s reasoning on this issue has been faulted.
(Temin 1969). Nevertheless, it is clear that what Jackson perceived to be a conflict
between eastern and western monetary interests inspired his opposition to the Bank,
and galvanized the country. Jackson won an overwhelming reelection, sealing the fate
of the Bank. Although there would be further battles, the war was lost. The charter of
the Bank expired in 1836 and it wound up its affairs. In the end the antagonism
toward the Bank, rooted in Western antagonism toward moneyed interests, had
produced a momentous change in the monetary institutions of the United States. The
2 It should be noted that although Crockett’s support for the
Bank may have been based on general
considerations, he owed money to the bank, a debt that was partially cancelled through the personal
intervention of Nicholas Biddle.
United States would not have any institution resembling a central bank until the
Federal Reserve was established in 1913.
In 1837 the United States experienced a severe banking panic; numerous
banks failed, and the banks were forced to suspend specie payments. In 1838 specie
payments were resumed, and things began to look up. But a second panic in 1839
inaugurated a long recession marked by falling prices and a contraction in real output,
although the degree of contraction in real output has been debated. To what extent did
the Bank War contribute to the Crises of 1837 and 1839 and the subsequent
recession? Peter Temin (1969) has argued that international forces, largely
independent of the Bank War, explain the Jacksonian inflation, and the Crises of 1837
and 1839. Marie Sushka (1976), however, has argued that the Bank War did have an
impact by increasing uncertainty about the soundness of the monetary system.
Undoubtedly, independent international shocks are part of the story, perhaps the
major part. But it seems probable that the uncertainty about the future of monetary
arrangements created by the Bank War made holders of bank liabilities more fearful
about the soundness of the banking system than they otherwise would have been, at
least in some measure, and contributed through this channel to the banking crises and
the recession that followed.
The Civil War was the result, of course, of the great national division over
slavery. Nevertheless, financial factors did play a small role, influencing, perhaps, the
timing of the War. Before the War the South had a relatively well developed banking
system, and there is a good deal of evidence for capital market integration (Bodenhorn
and Rockoff, 1992). Indeed, Southerners were proud of their banking system, and
their economic system based on “King Cotton.” The Crisis of 1857 was an eye-opener
in both the South and the North. As southerners saw it, the crisis was largely of
Yankee making. It started in New York, with the failure of a branch of the Ohio Life
Insurance and Trust Company, and spread through the rest of the country. In the end
the South suffered relatively less than did the North. Many radical Southern
secessionists seized on the evidence provided by the crisis of 1857 to push their case
that the South would be better off as an independent country with its own economic
and monetary policies. In the North the newly formed Republican Party tried, with
some success, to pin the blame for the Crisis on the Democrats. Thus the Crisis had
the ironic result of strengthening the two factions least willing to compromise on the
issue of slavery. (Huston, 1987).
The war divided the nation into three monetary regions. In the East and
Middle West a fiat money standard prevailed based on the greenback. In the south,
another fiat standard held sway based on the Confederate dollar. The Pacific coast,
however, remained on gold. The southern monetary system, of course, gradually
collapsed with the Confederacy, and came to an end in 1865. Returning to gold, and
thus reuniting the two currencies of the United States took until 1879.
After 1865 the South and Northeast were on the same (greenback) monetary
system. There was no central bank. The supply of high-powered money was largely
determined by the policies of congress and the secretaries of the treasury. Republicans
dominated. The goal of monetary policy was returning to the prewar price level and
gold convertibility. These long-cherished goals were achieved on January 1, 1879
when the United States returned to the gold standard at the prewar parity. Throughout
this period the policy of resumption faced determined regional opposition.
Republicans in the Northeast favored resumption; Democrats and their allies in the
Greenback Party, based in the Middle West and the South opposed resumption and
favored monetary expansion.
Southern and Western Opposition to Resumption.
In 1866 Congress passed the Contraction Act, which called for the reduction
in the amount of greenbacks in circulation, with a view to early resumption of specie
payments. When a recession ensued, considerable opposition to this policy developed.
In the 1868 election the currency was a major issue. Western democrats, following a
now familiar refrain, demanded that Civil War bonds be paid in greenbacks unless the
law specifically required payment in specie. Ulysses Grant, a financial conservative,
however, was elected president. In March 1869 Congress voted to pay the Civil War
debt in coin. Nevertheless, a more gradual approach toward resumption, referred to as
“growing up to the currency,” was adopted. Roughly speaking, the policy was to
freeze the stock of high-powered money so that economic growth would produce a
gradual decline in the price level.
Even this policy faced a severe political test. After the Panic of 1873,
Congress voted for an increase in the stock of greenbacks. Grant vetoed the measure,
triggering formation of the Greenback party – “a combination of middle western
farmers, small businessmen, and labor intellectuals.” (Merk 1978, p. 445) In 1875 a
lame duck Republican Congress adopted the Resumption Act which called for specie
payments to be resumed on January 1, 1879.
Opposition to resumption coming from Greenbackers in the South and West,
and Democrats with Greenback sympathies was fierce. In 1876 the House voted 106-
86 to repeal the Resumption Act, but repeal died in the Senate. In 1877 the House
again voted for repeal and for measures that would have expanded the stock of
money. But in the Senate in 1878 a compromise was worked out. The advocates of
soft money were persuaded to support a limited expansion of the stock of silver
money provided for in the Bland-Allison Act, and the policy of resumption was kept
on track. Resumption, as I noted above, was achieved in 1879. But it had been a near
The opponents of resumption could hardly have been expected to give up their
cause simply because it produced uncertainty about the final outcome. Nevertheless,
by repeatedly placing resumption in doubt, the soft money faction created uncertainty
about future exchange rates, that affected nominal interest rates, and that probably
created an additional hindrance to international capital flows. (Calomiris 1994).
During this period, it should be noted, the West remained on the gold
standard. Indeed, in 1873 the National Banking Act was amended to permit banks in
California to issue currency redeemable in gold (yellowbacks). Thus from 1865 to
1879, when the greenback currency became convertible into gold we have a monetary
rarity: a strong political union, untouched by war, with two currencies, greenbacks
and yellowbacks, circulating at a floating exchange rate. Interest rates on the Pacific
Coast were high, perhaps reflecting some of the exchange rate uncertainty. Rates,
however, had been high before the war and would remain high after resumption. In
any case, the “need” to reunite the currency, as contemporary observers saw it,
strengthened the case for resumption.
Middle Western opposition to the gold standard continued to smolder after
Resumption. In the late 1880s opposition burst into flame once more. The main
problem was farmer unrest aggravated by low farm prices. Table 1 shows prices for
the crops that were key in the regions where discontent was at a maximum. The real
price of wheat had fallen from 100 at the time of resumption to 86 in 1890. Farmer
Alliances were formed, and showed surprising strength in the 1890 congressional
elections. Eight Middle Western and one Southern Populists were elected.
Congress took note of the growing pressure for inflation and passed the
Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1890 which required the Treasury to purchase 4.5
million ounces of silver per month, virtually the entire U.S. output, paying with new
legal tender currency redeemable in gold or silver at the discretion of the Treasury.
The Silver Purchase Act was a compromise, designed to appease southern and
western inflationists, and western silver interests, without going all the way to the free
coinage of silver-backed currency. Fear of silver, however, produced a reduction in
the Treasury’s stock of gold, further increasing fears that the United States might
abandon the gold standard.
Although Farm prices rose briefly in 1891, they tumbled again in 1892, and
demands for monetary expansion were renewed. In 1892 the Northern Alliances
entered the presidential race as the Populist Party. Their platform, the Omaha
platform, was a wish list of radical reforms, monetary reforms prominent among
The stage was now set for the Great Depression of the 1890s, and the
accompanying “Battle of the Standards” (gold vs. silver), the famous debate over
monetary policy fought along regional lines. Before describing those events, however,
I want to digress briefly and consider the extent to which those regions matched the
criteria for optimal currency areas.
A Digression on the Optimal Currency Area Criteria
Were the regions that opposed resumption in the 1870s, and that supported
greenbacks and bimetallism in subsequent decades, separately optimal currency
Optimal-currency-area theorists have described several factors that identify an
area as a candidate for its own currency: (1) it must be a large area, (2) it must be
specialized in the production of certain goods and subject to asymmetric shocks, (3)
labor mobility between the candidate region and other regions is limited, (4) capital
mobility between the candidate region and other regions is limited, and (5) fiscal
transfers between the candidate region and other regions are limited. If the regional
economies of the United States were relatively small, then the case for viewing them
as candidates for separate currencies would be off to a bad start. It would be hard to
make a case, for example, for a single state as an optimal currency area. The costs of
currency conversion mount for a small open economy. But, in fact, the major census
divisions of the United States were, by world standards, large economies. By 1900,
for example, U.S. national income was about twice that of Britain. (Friedman and
Schwartz, 1982, pp. 122, 130). Estimates of the distribution of personal incomes in
the United States place the share of the Middle Atlantic region (economically the
largest) at about 31 percent. So a back-of-the-envelope calculation might put the
income of this region at 62 percent of Britain’s.
These regions were subject, moreover, to asymmetric shocks. Regional
agricultural specialization had begun in the colonial era. The famous “North Thesis”
(North 1961) maintains that the specialization of the South in plantation agriculture,
especially cotton, was the driving force behind American economic growth before the
Civil War. After the Civil War the South remained a land specialized in the
production of cash crops: sugar, tobacco, rice, and cotton. Indeed, because of the
changes in the structure of Southern agriculture, the South produced more cotton after
the Civil War, and devoted a larger share of its resources to the production of cotton,
than it had before the war. The prices of cash crops rose and fell with the business
cycle, but seemed to be especially hard hit in certain periods.
In terms of labor mobility the South was clearly a world apart until World War
II. Gavin Wright (1996) in Old South, New South, has shown that while considerable
integration was achieved across labor markets within the South (wages for unskilled
white and black workers were almost the same) the southern labor market remained a
separate low-wage market. Racism limited mobility. Black southerners, of course,
suffered the most; but even white southerners had to overcome stereotypes and ill
will, especially after the Civil War. Once migration patterns were established,
moreover, it was hard to change them in response to changing economic conditions,
because earlier migrants provided information and support for later migrants.
Mobility among other regions was much higher. But moving in response to regional
shocks was even into the 1930s a process accomplished with considerable difficulties.
The Joads were doing the right thing from an economic point of view – moving from
a depressed region to an expanding region during the 1930s – but the Grapes
is an appropriate title.
The extent of capital mobility is more debatable. The standard view is that
integration of regional capital markets was not achieved until the turn of the century
because of a simple reluctance of capital to migrate, or because of institutional factors
such as differences in banking and usury laws. Indeed, Bodenhorn’s (1995) data
shows that substantial interregional interest rate differentials persisted through the
1930s, although Bodenhorn attributes these differences to risk. One can say that after
1900, if not before, capital market integration served to ameliorate the affects of
In the United States today fiscal transfers tend to offset asymmetric shocks.
Unemployment benefits, for example, will rise in regions suffering from high
unemployment. In the nineteenth century, however, the federal government was
simply too small a share of GDP to offset regional shocks through fiscal transfers.
The largest federal transfer program by far was the Civil War pension program. And
this program was somewhat responsive to economic conditions. The depression of the
1890s contributed in some measure to the expansion of benefits under the program
that occurred at that time. But southerners, immigrants, men who were too old or too
young to have served, or who hired substitutes were not eligible. Women had to marry
to become eligible. It was not until the adoption of programs such as unemployment
compensation and agricultural price supports in the 1930s that one can point to fiscal
transfers as a legitimate mechanism for overcoming asymmetric shocks.
The apriori case for believing that prices and wages in the separate regions
were relatively sticky (thus strengthening the case for an independent monetary
policy) appears to be relatively weak. The labor unions or oligopolistic industries that
economists often point to as sources of stickiness were unimportant. There was
considerable political agitation about the danger of the Trusts, but how much they
contributed to price rigidity is debatable. In the South, even a significant portion of
agricultural rental contracts was indexed: the famous sharecropping contracts.
Nevertheless, there were elements of institutional rigidity: taxes, mortgages,
cash rentals, and so on. And beyond purely institutional sources of rigidity, there were
the usual coordination problems. Adjusting to lower world prices for agricultural
products meant a coordinated fall in wages, prices, and rents. Along most dimensions
(labor and capital mobility, and fiscal transfers) the monetary union was strengthened
during the 1930s. But along this dimension, the union was weakened.
Certain regions of the United States clearly exhibited many of the signs of
good candidates for separate currencies, at least until the 1930s. But can one identify
episodes in which substantial costs were imposed on these regions because they were
part of a monetary union? Classic cases of optimal-currency-area dilemmas, a boom
in one region combined with a recession in other regions, were probably rare. More
common were differences among regions in the magnitude of cyclical fluctuations,
and in the timing of contractions and recoveries.
The Great Depression of the 1890s
The Great Depression of the 1890s, like the Depression of the 1930s, involved
two severe recessions in close order. The economy declined for 17 months from
January of 1893 to June 1894, and then after a comparatively weak recovery, declined
again for 18 months from December 1895 to June 1897. Unemployment figures are
necessarily somewhat problematic, but the figures we do have show the rate of
unemployment at double-digit levels from 1893 through 1898, with a peak of 18.4
percent in 1894. (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1975, p. 135)
As we noted above, the early 1890s were characterized by concern over the
maintenance of the gold standard stemming from the Sherman Silver Purchase Act,
the decline in the stock of Treasury gold, and the rise of the Populists. In May 1893 a
banking panic was touched off by commercial failures in New York. In June 1893, the
administration revealed that it would press for the repeal of the Sherman Silver
Purchase Act, and this seemed to ease pressures in financial markets. In July,
however, further commercial and bank failures, led to a renewal of the panic. Bank
runs and failures occurred in all regions. Starting in New York, banks throughout the
country restricted the convertibility of notes and deposits into gold. The restriction on
convertibility somewhat eased the situation. High interest rates drew gold into the
United States and specie payments were resumed in September.
But the next three years were characterized by continued difficulties. Populists
in the West and South continued to agitate for free and unlimited coinage of silver at a
bimetallic ratio of 16:1. It was widely believed that adoption of bimetallism at that
rate would have created substantial inflation and driven the United States off the gold
standard. Uncertainty about the standard was reflected in higher interest rates. The
Republicans favored continued commitment to the gold standard, although some
Republicans, typically from the western states, called for an international conference
aimed at restoring bimetallism, but at a bimetallic ratio that would permit continued
circulation of both metals, and that would not produce inflation. The Democrats were
badly split. The eastern wing of the party, led by former President Grover Cleveland,
favored maintaining the commitment to gold; the western and southern wings favored
bimetallism at 16:1. At the Democratic National Convention held in Chicago in 1896,
the Westerners overthrew the Easterners. William Jennings Bryan, a Democratic
Congressman from Nebraska with strong Populist sympathies, was nominated after a
stirring speech, one of the most famous in American history, in which he declared that
the Republicans would not be allowed to “Crucify Mankind upon a Cross of Gold.”
Despite his oratorical skills, Bryan lost the election to William McKinley, who
favored the Republican brand of international bimetallism. Bryan carried states only
in the West and South. Ironically, new flows of gold soon began to reverse the
deflation that had persisted since the end of the Civil War. Demands for inflation
through bimetallism or fiat paper became superfluous. The United States formalized
its commitment to the gold standard with the Gold Standard Act of 1900.
Why was the United States so badly split along regional lines over monetary
policy? Historians, traditionally, have seen the issue as one of creditors (eastern
bankers) against debtor (western farmers). One problem with this view, as was
recognized by Bryan and others at the time, is that any help from inflation would
likely be partial and temporary, because interest rates would rise to reflect expected
inflation. Frieden’s (1997) recent argument that the support for 16:1 came primarily
from exporters who looked to devaluation to improve earnings seems more
As we saw above, however, the regions at odds with each other were, in many
ways, separable currency areas. It makes sense to look at regional stocks of money, or
what in fact are available, regional deposits. Figure 1 shows deposits by region from
1875 through 1896. Deposits in each region were set to 100 in 1875 to make it easier
to compare regional trends.3 Granted,
regional deposits reflected as well as caused
changes in regional economic activity. Nevertheless, to the extent that these deposit
movements reflected interregional transfers of reserves (balance of payments
problems) or bank failures that might have been prevented by lender of last resort
operations, they represent an independent influence on economic activity.
In any case, the picture is rather dramatic. The Great Depression of the 1890s
left only a small imprint on deposits in New England or the Middle Atlantic region
(dominated by New York and Pennsylvania). In New England deposits fell 2.4
percent from 1892 to 1893, but then more than regained their loss, rising 7.2 percent
from 1893 to 1894. In the Middle Atlantic region, deposits fell 4.7 percent, and then
rose 7.7 percent. On the other hand, the impact on deposits in the West and South,
the centers of the Populist revolt, were dramatic. Deposits in the South fell 18.6
percent from 1892 to 1893 and regained only 8.2 percent between 1893 and 1894; in
the West deposits fell 16.4 percent, and only recovered .4 percent. Deposits in both
regions were lower in 1896 than they had been in 1892. Is it any wonder that
politicians in the West and South were calling for measures to increase the stock of
money (remonetization of silver, or more radically, agricultural price supports
financed by issues of fiat money) and that politicians in New England and the Middle
Atlantic States called for a stand pat policy?
Data for all banks (both national and non-national) is available during this
period only for four regions. The Middle Western and Pacific regions were aggregated
in the source for non-national banks. This is worrisome because the Pacific Coast
(which is dominated by California) was growing rapidly. Deposits in this region
might have followed a somewhat different path than in other western states. In
addition, the figures on non-national banks may be subject to reporting errors that
vary in magnitude across regions and over time, despite the painstaking work
undertaken by David Fand (1954) in putting these figures together. I have, however,
computed National Bank deposits, which are likely to be more accurate, for five
regions, separating the Middle West and the Far West.
These estimates are plotted in Figure 2. Again, the deposits in each region
have been set to 100 in 1875. As expected, national bank deposits grew extremely
rapidly on the Pacific Coast, rising by a factor of 18 between 1875 and 1900. The
3 The appendix describes how these numbers were computed.
most important point, however, is that the crisis of the 1893 is most evident in three
regions: the Pacific Coast and Territories, the West, and the South. Again, the Middle
Atlantic region and New England record only small impacts from the Crisis of 1893.
Who was right, the East or the West? I find it hard not to believe that the
falling stocks of deposits and bank credit in the South and West did not contribute in
some measure to the economic distress those regions were suffering, and would not
have been relieved by monetary expansion. Taking a longer-term view, Milton
Friedman (Fall 1990, and December 1990) has argued that adoption of bimetallism
earlier in the postbellum period would have produced a more satisfactory behavior of
the price level. He concludes, however, that by 1896 the time for adopting
bimetallism had passed.
In any case, one thing seems clear. An unequivocal commitment to either gold
or bimetallism would have avoided the uncertainty which itself was part of the
problem. Milton Friedman and Anna J. Schwartz put it this way, in A Monetary
History (1963, p. 134)
In retrospect, it seems clear that either acceptance of a silver standard
at an early stage, or an early commitment to gold would have been
preferable to the uneasy compromise that was maintained, with the
uncertainty about the final outcome and the consequent wide
fluctuations to which the currency was subjected.
Politicians, as Figures 1 and 2 show, were advocating the real interests of their
own regions. Deposit growth in the East, although affected by the panic of 1893, was
sufficiently close to trend to justify sticking with the current monetary policy; deposit
growth in the South and West was depressed and justified a change in policy.
The optimal solution, were it politically feasible, might have been separate
currencies, say for the East, the West, the South, and the Pacific Coast. The West and
the South would have adopted a silver standard in the 1890s, while the East and the
Pacific Coast, given its historical attachments, would have stayed on gold. Money
stocks would not have fallen in the West and the South as much as they did. Their
currencies, moreover, would have depreciated against gold, making it easier to
dispose of wheat, cotton, and other agricultural products on domestic and word
markets. The debate over monetary policy, and the resulting uncertainty, which
affected banks in all regions would not have happened.
The Panic of 1903 (the Rich Man’s Panic) and the Panic of 1907
Figure 3 plots deposits by region for the period 1900 to 1914.4 Deposits in
each region have been set equal to 100 in 1900. The major events during this period
were the panic of 1903 (the Rich Man’s Panic) and the Panic of 1907. Here the
regional pattern is different from the 1890s.
New York financial markets came under severe stress in late 1902. Shortterm
interest rates shot up, the stock market crashed, and a number of financial houses
went bankrupt. The associated cyclical contraction was relatively long (23 months),
from September 1902 to August 1904. In the Rich Man’s panic the biggest impact
was on the Middle Atlantic (New York) region, although even in this region the panic
shows up as a period of relatively slow growth in deposits, rather than as an actual
4 All types of deposits in both national and non-national banks are
decline. Deposits in the other regions, by way of contrast, were not affected much at
Although a severe jolt, the Rich Man’s panic did not produce a banking panic
or a severe economic contraction. The Panic of 1907, however, produced a much
broader and deeper reaction in the banking system. Pressure began to build in the
New York money market in the summer and fall of 1907. A major shock occurred in
October 1907 when a run on the Knickerbocker Trust Company forced it to suspend
payments.5 Other Trust companies
soon were in difficulty as well. A banking panic
soon gripped the nation, and the banks were forced to restrict the convertibility of
bank notes and deposits into gold.
Nearly all regions of the country were affected. Only the plot of deposits for
New England fails to show a dramatic imprint from the crisis. But as in 1903, the
interesting feature of the data is the impact on the Middle Atlantic States, and the
contrast between those states and the Middle West. Deposits in the Middle Atlantic
States fell 2.38 percent between 1907 and 1908. Deposits in the South and on the
Pacific coast fell by even larger amounts. But deposits in the Middle West fell by only
1.99 percent. The regional impact of the panic of 1907 was clearly very different from
the impact of the panic of 1893.
As might be expected the political response to the crises in 1903 and 1907 was
also very different than it was in the 1890s. During the 1890s, the eastern
establishment was convinced that monetary reform was a foolish idea pushed by
dangerous Mid-western radicals such as Bryan; now the East was convinced that
monetary reform was a wise idea advocated by the best scientific minds. In the wake
of the Panic of 1907 the Aldrich-Vreeland Act (May 1908) was passed which created
an emergency currency that could be issued during panics; and created the National
Monetary Commission to investigate the monetary system, and recommend reforms.
Senator Nelson W. Aldrich of Rhode Island, a long time Republican leader, and
determined opponent of the Populists, headed the Commission. The main
recommendation was the creation of a type of central bank. The United States would
be divided into districts, and the banks in each district would keep their reserves in a
district bank that was owned and controlled by the member banks. There would be a
central board, controlled by the district banks, with the power to issue a gold-backed
currency. Aldrich introduced a bill in Congress embodying this plan.
By the time that the bill came up for debate, however, the Democrats
controlled the Congress and the Presidency. Goaded by the populists among them, the
Democrats insisted on changes in the bill. Indeed, William Jennings Bryan, who
carried Populist hopes for free silver in 1896, was then Secretary of State, and is said
to have played an important role in the negotiations. The final result was legislation
that differed from the Republican model in two ways, one that would remain
important, and one that would not. First, the new institution was to be run by people
appointed by the Federal Government, and not by the banks. Second, the right to issue
currency would be the responsibility of the district banks, rather than the central
5 The Trust companies were banks that had grown up as ways
of getting around the
strict asset regulations imposed by the Comptroller of the Currency and the New York
board. The ability of the District banks to issue their own currencies would not prove
to be a major feature of the system, it reflected a Populist hankering for a monetary
system that would respond to the differing needs of differing regions.
The Great Depression of the 1930s
The Great Depression of the 1930s was the most severe in American
economic history. Ever since the publication of A Monetary History of
States, Friedman and Schwartz (1963), changes in the stock of money,
in monetary policy, have been granted an important role in the economic historian’s
account of the Depression. The extraordinary impact of the Depression can be seen in
Figure 4, which plots all bank deposits by Federal Reserve District from 1922 to
1941. I have switched from broader regions to Federal Reserve districts, primarily
because data for the Federal Reserve districts is readily available. Nevertheless, the
Federal Reserve districts correspond, roughly, to economic regions, so little is lost in
switching from broader regions to Federal Reserve districts. To make the figure easier
to read, deposits in each region have been set to 100 in 1929.6
No region was immune to the crisis, but there were significant regional
differences. Within the whole period I have highlighted two subperiods, 1929-1931
and 1934 to 1936, when there were marked regional differences in the rate of change
of deposits, and when important mistakes were made in monetary policy.
The most famous, and probably the most important, error in American
monetary history was the failure of the Federal Reserve to act as lender of last resort
for the banking system during the contraction from 1929 to 1933. A great deal has
been written about the reasons for the failure of the Federal Reserve to take
appropriate actions during this period. The personal and institutional rivalries stressed
by Milton Friedman and Anna J. Schwartz (1963); the adherence to misleading
doctrines about how policy actions worked, Calomiris and Wheelock (1998), Meltzer
(1998); and the weight placed on adherence to the gold standard, Eichengreen (1992)
undoubtedly were important in producing the lack of response to the crisis exhibited
by the Federal Reserve. Regional loyalties had declined, in part because World War I
had boosted nationalism over sectionalism.
Nevertheless, Figure 5, which focuses on 1929 to 1931, suggests that regional
differences need to be woven into the traditional story.7 The deviations among regions
are striking. In June 1931, almost two years into the Great Depression, the stocks of
deposits in the San Francisco, Boston, and Philadelphia districts, and in the weighty
New York district, were still above the June 1929 levels.
Economists and policymakers from those regions, who tended to look toward
events in their own region, whether consciously or not, would have been less likely to
stress the need for drastic countermeasures. As evidence that the need for action was
recognized by some observers, Friedman and Schwartz (1963, p. 409) cite
representative Sabbath of Illinois writing to Federal Reserve Board chairman Eugene
Meyer in January 1931: “Does the board maintain there is no emergency at this time?
To my mind if ever there was an emergency it is now, and this I feel, no one can
successfully deny.” Can it be entirely irrelevant that at the time Sabbath was writing
6 All figures are for June dates, usually close to June 30.
deposits had already fallen drastically in the Chicago district and the St. Louis district
(which covers southern Illinois)?
Residence in a district hard hit by deposit losses, it must be admitted, was no
guaranty of sensitivity to the crisis. James McDougal, President of the Federal
Reserve Bank of Chicago, consistently opposed open market security purchases in
part because he thought it would be useless for the Federal Reserve to try to offset a
natural market process: liquidating bad loans. Marriner Eccles, who became chairman
of the Federal Reserve Board in 1935, might have been expected to be a consistent
advocate of monetary expansion. He was a banker from the West (Utah), a region
with a long tradition of monetary radicalism, and one that had been hard hit by the
Depression as shown in Figure 4. He had been appointed, moreover, because of his
sympathy for the New Deal. But his own study of the Depression, and his reading of
the heretical under-consumptionist William T. Foster, had pushed him toward the
view that monetary policy was a relatively impotent tool for controlling the economy.
The real action was on the side of fiscal policy
Roy A. Young, President of the Boston Bank, however, at one point based his
opposition to open market purchases on a regional argument: open market purchases
would lead to a piling up of reserves in the money centers, with little effect on the
regions of the country that really needed reserves. Thus, although policy positions in
the 1930s do not divide as neatly along regional lines as they did in the 1890s, there is
some evidence that differences in regional perspectives contributed, at least in a small
measure, to the paralysis that gripped monetary policy making in the early 1930s.
7 The figures are for June 1929, June 1930, and June 1931; the cyclical
peak was in August 1929.
The second major policy error during the Depression was the decision by the
Federal Reserve to raise bank reserve ratios in three steps -- in August 1936, March
1937, and May 1937. Friedman and Schwartz (1963), and more recently Meltzer
(1998), have explored many of the intellectual and personal currents that produced the
decision. Nevertheless, the diversity in regional experiences shown in Figure 6 is
suggestive. By June of 1935 the stocks of deposits in the New York, Richmond, and
San Francisco districts, had all recovered their June 1929 levels. Rapid expansion in
the ensuing year carried the stocks of deposits in these districts to levels between 20
and 30 percent above the levels of June 1929. Moreover, employment in these regions
had also recovered well.8 A Federal
Reserve President in one of these districts, who
based his conclusions solely on conditions in his own district, might well conclude
that it was time to adopt a more restrictive monetary policy before things got out of
hand and inflation threatened.
In the “heartland” districts, however, conditions were very different. In the
Cleveland district deposits in June 1935 were little more than 80 percent of what they
had been in June 1929, and although growth was rapid, deposits were still below the
June 1929 level in 1936. Unemployment was still high. The president of a district
bank in the heartland might well conclude that further monetary expansion was
required. To put it differently, the Federal Reserve, at least to judge by deposit
grwoth, faced an optimal-currency-area dilemma in 1936. Some regions needed
stimulation; others needed restraint.
8 It may seem surprising that the Richmond region followed the path
of New York and San Francisco.
In fact, however, as is now well understood, the South did relatively well during the depression.
It is interesting to ask what would have happened had the United States been
divided into separate currency areas – separate currencies for, say, the East, the South,
the Middle West, and the Pacific – during the 1930s. Separate currencies, of course,
were ruled out by political considerations. A currency is a symbol of sovereignty, like
the flag, and it is as hard to imagine any country deliberately choosing to divide its
currency. But thinking about separate currencies can throw light on the economics of
the Depression. Even with separate currencies, monetary policies might well have
been similar in the East, the South and on the Pacific coast to what they actually were.
The central bank of the East, for example, would not have acted a lender of last resort
in the early 1930s, but there would have been no need for it to do so. It would have
slowed monetary expansion in the mid-1930s, but it would have been logical for it to
The central bank in the Middle West, however, might have acted differently.
With hundreds of banks failing in the region, with politicians calling for action, a
central bank that had full responsibility for the region might well have acted as lender
of last resort in the early 1930s. Moreover, a Middle Western central bank, under
intense pressure from local interests, might well have followed a more inflationary
policy. Silver interests were potent in the Middle West and might well have
demanded additional purchases of silver financed through an increase in the monetary
base. The Middle Western currency might well have depreciated relative to other
regional currencies. But this would have helped employment in the manufacturing
sectors of the Middle West, which were among the hardest hit in the nation, because
they suffered from increasing labor costs due to unionization, as well as from the
decrease in demand for consumer durables.
To be sure, if someone like James McDougal, who advocated deflationary
measures as President of the Chicago district bank during the 1930s, had been
president of the Midwestern Central bank that I am imagining, he might have
succeeded in imposing deflationary policies despite political pressures to do
otherwise. But not necessarily; the argument that open market purchases were actions
taken by bankers in faraway places that influenced banks in faraway places would no
longer apply. Long experience with the conduct of monetary policy might have made
central bankers in the Midwest more adroit than central bank board members. In
short, the monetary union, which in more stable times was a source of strength for the
United States, appears to have been a liability during the 1930s.
It is generally assumed that the United States became a smoothly functioning
monetary union, at least for the purpose of comparison with the European Monetary
Union, in the postwar era. (For example, Feldstein 1997; Wyplosz 1997). The
comparison may tend to exaggerate how well the U.S. monetary union functions.
There have been asymmetric real shocks, such as the oil price fluctuations that hit
Texas particularly hard, or the changes in manufacturing that hit the “rust belt.”
Perhaps there were regional banking problems that exacerbated these disturbances
that we have not paid sufficient attention to because we are accustomed to think in
But it is true that several institutional changes took place during the
Depression and World War II that weakened older divisions. One was the
development of federally funded transfer programs, such as unemployment insurance,
social security, and agricultural price supports, which cushioned regional shocks, and
redistributed reserves lost through interregional payments deficits. Penelope Hartland
(1949), using data from the Federal Reserve’s Interdistrict Settlement Fund showed
that the regions that had been hit by terms of trade shocks during the 1930s lost
reserves to other regions through trade deficits, but that government transfers
materially offset these losses. Between 1929 and 1933, for example, the Minneapolis
Federal Reserve district lost $247 million in reserves on private transactions. This
was offset, however, by a gain of $229 million on federal government transactions.
On the other hand, the Boston Federal Reserve district gained $644 million in
reserves on private transactions, while losing $575 million on federal government
transactions. (Hartland, 1949, p. 397). Seymour Harris (1957, pp.174-192) noted the
regional payments problems during the 1930s, and argued that separate currency areas
would have ameliorated these problems. Harris also noted similar regional payment
problems in the early post-Second-World-War era.
A second institutional change was the breakdown of long-term isolation of the
southern labor market. During the war a strong northern labor market and the absence
of immigrants pulled workers, white as well as black, from the South, and established
networks that provided information and support for later migrants. In addition, federal
labor legislation in the form of minimum wages and regulation of hours and
conditions of work, and federal incentives to mechanize agriculture, established
during the 1930s added to the postwar flow of migrants from the South.9
A third factor that improved the functioning of the U.S. monetary union after
the war was the absence of major banking and financial crises emanating from
regional shocks. Deposit insurance, and monetary policies that reacted quickly to
economic downturns, tended to minimize the regional banking problems that
characterized recessions in the prewar era.
VIII. Lessons from the Troubled History of the U.S. Monetary Union
Weighing the costs and benefits of monetary unification is a difficult task. On
the one hand, monetary unification means reduced transaction costs, easier
comparison of prices in different regions, long-term investment without fears of
devaluation, and so on. On the other hand, unification means relinquishing the
capacity to use exchange rate changes and monetary policy to prevent monetary
problems from magnifying distress originating in other sectors. Frequently, the
experience of the United States is cited as evidence that in fact the benefits of a
monetary union greatly outweigh the costs. After all, the monetary union of the
United States has survived (with a temporary break during the Civil War era) since
the adoption of the Constitution in 1788. But the survival of the U.S. monetary union
is at best weak evidence that the net effects have been positive. There are many
government policies, tariffs for example, which have survived for decades for
9 Fiscal federalism and the improvements in the functioning of the
labor market are discussed in
Eichengreen (1998), chapters 2 and 3. Wright (1996) discusses the breakdown of barriers to labor
migration. Libecap (1998) discusses the origins of agricultural price supports.
political reasons, often the support of special interests, even though the claim that
these policies contributed positively to the general welfare is dubious.
In truth, the U.S. experience shows that fears about the loss of monetary
autonomy are far from baseless. American monetary history provides numerous
examples of regional shocks that were magnified by monetary reactions. Typically, a
region-specific shock to financial or agricultural markets produced a loss of regional
bank reserves through an internal drain, caused by fears about the solvency of the
regional banking system, and an external drain, caused by a regional balance of
payments deficit. The result would be a regional contraction of bank money and credit
that would cause headaches even for businesses not effected by the initial shock. A
political battle would often follow. The regions that had experienced the contraction
would demand a reform of the whole monetary system. The resulting uncertainty
about the future of existing monetary institutions would further aggravate the initial
contraction in economic activity.
During these episodes the United States might well have been better off, from
a purely economic point of view, had it been divided into separate currency areas.
Regions hit by severe asymmetric shocks would have been able to devalue their
currencies, which would have reduced interregional losses of reserves. Within the
region, expansionary monetary policies would have shored up the banking system,
preventing runs or severe contractions of credit. Other regions would have been free
to follow more conservative monetary policies, eliminating political battles over
monetary institutions. Separate currencies for separate regions were not ruled out by
any logical inconsistency. During and after the Civil War (1861-1879) the Pacific
coast had its own currency, the yellowback. But separate currencies for separate
regions were ruled out eventually by political considerations. In the course of the
nineteenth century currencies came to be seen as symbols of sovereignty, and separate
regional currencies became as unthinkable as separate armies.
Nevertheless, speculating about this counterfactual helps us to understand the
U.S. business cycle and may suggest some lessons for countries contemplating joining
or remaining within a monetary union. For a country that is debating whether to join a
monetary union the lesson is that the facile argument that the United States has had a
monetary union, and therefore monetary unions must be good things, doesn’t stand
close scrutiny. Second thoughts are in order. For countries already firmly committed
to a monetary union, the lesson is that it is extremely important to adopt the
institutions adopted by the United States in the 1930s -- a system of inter-regional
fiscal transfers and some form of deposit insurance, or regionally sensitive lender-oflast-
resort facilities -- so that asymmetric real shocks are not aggravated by banking
Although the Eastern financial centers, and industrial Middle West had been
integrated by the turn of the century, it was not until the 1930s that all regions, including the
South, could be said to be parts of a single optimal currency area. How long did it take the
United States to become an Optimal Currency Area? A reasonable minimum might be one
hundred and fifty years! Hopefully, it will not take the European Monetary Union quite so
10 Capie (1998) has drawn a similar lesson from a variety of historical
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Table 1. Agricultural Prices and the NNP Deflator, 1879-1900
(1879 = 100)
Real Price of
Real Price of
1879 100 100 100
1880 110 93 105
1881 108 103 100
1882 112 104 105
1883 110 91 92
1884 105 85 97
1885 98 86 103
1886 96 80 94
1887 97 77 102
1888 99 87 100
1889 100 87 103
1890 98 86 113
1891 97 93 89
1892 93 80 83
1893 95 67 87
1894 89 59 78
1895 88 64 83
1896 85 70 92
1897 86 87 84
1898 88 94 68
1899 91 74 73
1900 95 69 100
Sources: NNP deflator: (Friedman and Schwartz, 1982), pp. 122-123.
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A Chronology of the U.S. Monetary Union
1788 The Constitution is ratified. States are prohibited from issuing paper
money. The U.S. monetary union is launched.
1791 The First Bank of the United States is chartered.
1811 The First Bank of the United States comes to an end.
1816 The Second Bank of the United States is chartered.
1832 President Andrew Jackson vetoes the bill to recharter the Second Bank,
stressing the oppression of the West in his veto message.
1836 The Second Bank of the United States comes to an end.
1837 The nation is hit by a severe banking panic, inaugurating a period of
1857 The nation is hit by a severe banking panic. Southern firebrands and
Northern Republicans both make political capital from the crisis.
1861 The Civil War begins. The United States is divided into three currency
areas: Greenbacks in the Northeast, Confederate dollars in the South,
and Gold in California.
1865 Lee surrenders. The Confederate dollar ceases to function.
1866 Congress passes the Contraction Act looking to a rapid return to the
1873 The silver dollar is omitted from the list of official coins (The Crime of
1873). National Banks in California are permitted to issue notes backed
by gold (yellowbacks.)
1879 Resumption of specie payments. The yellowback and greenback are
1896 William Jennings Bryan, an advocate of free silver, is nominated by the
Populists and Democrats; William McKinley, an advocate of
international bimetallism, is nominated by the Republicans. Bryan
carries only a few states in the West and South
1900 The Gold Standard Act firmly commits the United States to the Gold
Standard and symbolizes the end of the “Battle of the Standards.”
1907 A Banking Panic leads to the establishment of the National Monetary
1913 The Federal Reserve System is established. Republican proposals for a
currency issued by a privately controlled central bank are defeated.
Instead a federation of regional banks, each issuing their own currency,
is created. William Jennings Bryan, now secretary of State, plays an
active role in fashioning the legislation.
Beginning of The Great Contraction. The Stock market crashes and a
severe monetary contraction begins in the nation’s heartland.
The Federal Reserve raises required reserve ratios contributing to a
sharp recession that prolongs the depression.
All Bank Deposits by Region 1875-1896
1875 = 100
1875 1876 1877 1878 1879 1880 1881 1882 1883 1884 1885 1886 1887 1888 1889 1890 1891 1892 1893 1894 1895 1896
New England Middle Atlantic South West
National Banks Deposits by Region, 1875-1900
1875 = 100
1875 1876 1877 1878 1879 1880 1881 1882 1883 1884 1885 1886 1887 1888 1889 1890 1891 1892 1893 1894 1895 1896
1897 1898 1899 1900
New England Middle Atlantic West South Pacific
All Bank Deposits By Region, 1900 - 1914
(1900 = 100)
1900 1901 1902 1903 1904 1905 1906 1907 1908 1909 1910 1911 1912 1913 1914
New England Middle Atlantic South Middle West Pacific
Deposits by Federal Reserve District 1922-1941
1929 = 100
192 192 192 192 192 192 192 192 193 193 193 193 193 193 193 193 193 193 194 194
Bosto New Philadelph Clevela Richmon Atlant
Chicag St. Minneapol Kansas Dalla San
Deposits by Federal Reserve District
The First Two Years of the Depression: 1929-31
1929 = 100
1929 1930 1931
Boston New York Philadelphia Cleveland Richmond Atlanta
Chicago St. Louis Minneapolis Kansas City Dallas San Francisco
Deposits by Federal Reserve District
Before the Doubling of Reserve Ratios: 1934-36
1929 = 100
1934 1935 1936
Boston New York Philadelphia Cleveland Richmond Atlanta
Chicago St. Louis Minneapolis Kansas City Dallas San Francisco
Appendix: Sources of Data
Exact figures on the stock of money by region are not available. The amount of coins
within the United States, for example, can be estimated from figures on minting and
imports and exports, but the amount within any one region cannot be estimated
accurately. But figures on deposits, and in some periods bank notes, by place of issue
(although not by where they are held) are available. Fand (1954, pp. 72-76) estimated
deposits in Non-national banks in four regions: New England, Middle States,
Southern States, and Western states for the years 1875-1896. These regions do not
correspond exactly to economic regions. Perhaps the main problem from this
perspective is the combination of the Pacific Coast with the other western states. It
would be, however, extremely time consuming to build up separate estimates for the
non-national banks for this region, so I have relied on the national bank data to
provide a picture of the Pacific Coast. To Fand’s estimates of deposits in non-national
banks, I added deposits of national banks. The source is a table by state that appeared
regularly in the Annual Report of the Comptroller of the Currency. U.S. Comptroller
of the Currency (1920, pp. 307-343).
(1) New England: Connecticut,
Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode
Island, and Vermont.
(2) Middle Atlantic: Delaware,
District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New
York, and Pennsylvania.
(3) South: Alabama, Arkansas,
Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi,
North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.
(4) Middle West: Illinois, Indiana,
Indian Territory, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan,
Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.
(5) Pacific Coast, Western states, and
Territories: Alaska, Arizona, California,
Colorado, Dakota Territory, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico,
North Dakota, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and
Deposits: 1896-1914. For this period All Bank Statistics (U.S. Board of Governors,
1959) gives data for all types of deposits in all classes of banks by states. The data
shown in the figure are a sum of demand and time deposits. The regions are defined
Deposits: 1914-1941. For this period I have switched to Deposits by Federal Reserve
District because the data is readily available; U.S. Board of Governors of the Federal
Reserve System (1943, pp. 688-927).