Modern Marvels (1993– )
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Episode credited cast:
Harold Anderson ...
Himself - Wells Fargo Historian
Peter Bakstansky ...
Himself - Peter Bakstansky
John Dillinger ...
Himself - Bank Robber (archive footage)
Amadeo Giannini ...
Himself - Founder, Bank of America (archive footage)
Baby Face Nelson ...
Himself - Bank Robber (archive footage)
Jim Nuss ...
Himself - President, Hermann Associates, Inc.
Himself (archive footage) (as Franklin Delano Roosevelt)
Meg Ventrudo ...
Herself - Museum of American Financial History


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Release Date:

3 August 2000 (USA)  »

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User Reviews

Where the Money Is.
5 August 2016 | by See all my reviews

Ever notice that banks are usually the most solid structures in small towns and even in cities? No frothy filigree, no lofty spires, no festoons of banners, no cartouches. That's deliberate. They're designed to project stability and safety.

If you've ever watched one of those movies about a gang of robbers drilling and burning their way through a massive bank vault, this is the place to find out all about how that vault was built and how resistant it is to penetration. The modern versions are unspeakably resistant. The door alone may weight more than 20 tons. And there are now multiple time locks so that even a kidnapped bank manager can't open the vault until the proper time.

The whole business of banking -- lending money for a fee -- began about a thousand years ago in Italy. In the town squares, lenders would set up their benches and do business. The word "bank" itself is from the Italian word for "bench."

In America, before the revolution, there was really no such thing as banking. Individuals lent money or credit to one another. The financial system was chaotic because there was no central currency. States issued their own money, which might not be accepted in another state. Private companies also printed script. Your purse might be stuffed with notes that could only be used at Exxon gas stations or Safeway supermarkets, and some only in Georgia. Foreign currencies made of precious metal also served. (Look up the origin of the slang term "two bits" sometime.)

It was Alexander Hamilton who established the first national bank, over the objections of many other founding fathers, especially Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson's vision of America was that it should be a decentralized nation of wealthy patricians, mostly farmers, who ruled over a benign and peaceful agrarian society. Hamilton stood for a strong central government. The national bank was symptomatic and it was disestablished under Andrew Jackson, if I remember correctly.

But there was still no central currency, no greenbacks or dollar bills. Each bank offered its own scrip, and there were 1600 banks by the 1850s. Not until after the Civil War did federal dollars appear, usable anywhere.

The program covers the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and A. P. Giannini's building out of it what became the Bank of America. Giannini also invented the branch network, so that banks were no longer restricted to one locality.

Booms and busts were plentiful in the 1800s and an attempt was made to smooth out the sine curves by establishing the Federal Reserve Bank in 1913, which set overnight lending rates. High during inflation, low during recessions. The Fed didn't prevent the Great Depression. By 1932, about 30% of American workers were unemployed. There was a cascade of bank failures because everyone lost confidence in the banks. (Look up "self-fulfilling prophecy" sometime.)

Under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who took office in 1933, the Federal Deposit Insurance plan was implemented to restore confidence in the banks. Roosevelt and the congress also separated commercial banking (lending money to depositors) from investment banking (taking risks by underwriting loans, etc.). This was called the Glass-Steagal Act of 1933. That particular rule was repealed in 1999 and banks began gambling with investor's money again, which led to the Great Recession of 2008.

The program describes the numerous alarms installed in banks and ATMs and the future of bricks and mortar banks. The prediction is that banks will always be around, or so one expert says. Ally Bank is strictly internet. I suppose it depends on the definition of "always". This interest and comprehensive program doesn't mention something that struck me in the description of modern banking methods is the extent to which human jobs are being eliminated in favor of automation. For every ATM (automatic teller machine) there is one less human teller.

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