Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Historical July 4th Festival Being Planned in Manhattan

 Click the link below to read the full article on the excellent New York History Blog:

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Great American Fortunes - Bennett Cerf: Published at Random

PHOTO: Library of Congress
While older Americans may recognize Bennett Cerf from CBS Television’s “What’s My Line?” many may not know he was also a syndicated columnist and the author of 21 joke books. Cerf was also one of the 20th century's greatest publishers, whose imprint literally and figuratively changed the world of publishing.

Cerf was born in Manhattan in 1898. When he was 16, his mother, the scion of a wealthy merchant died, leaving him a $125,000 trust fund. Cerf entered Columbia's School of Journalism in 1915, where he wrote a daily column for the school paper and edited the humor magazine.

After graduating, Cerf became a financial columnist for the New York Tribune, while simultaneously becoming a Wall Street stockbroker. Balancing the two jobs was difficult, but then Cerf got a lucky break.

Richard Simon of Boni & Liveright, a major publishing firm, resigned to form a new publishing house called Simon & Schuster. Short of cash, Horace Liveright offered to make Cerf the vice president of Boni & Liveright, provided Cerf would lend him $25,000. Cerf agreed.

Boni & Liveright published 60 titles a year and founded the Modern Library, a series of the best-known titles in publication. Subsequently, when Liveright was again short of cash, he sold Modern Library to Cerf and his friend Donald Klopfer.

The Modern Library turned into a cash cow, providing them with hefty salaries. And as the Library grew, Cerf and Klopfer decided to start their own publishing company. Picking the name randomly, they called it Random House. At first Random House distributed high-priced limited editions, but when the stock market crashed demand for limited editions disintegrated. Their Modern Library, however, remained Depression-proof.

Publishing was then a gentleman's profession. Books were sold with dignity and decorum, but Cerf saw it differently. "Everyone has a streak of pure, unadulterated ham," he proclaimed. "Many won't admit it. I revel in it!"

Cerf wanted James Joyce's "Ulysses," but it was banned in the United States. In 1932, he met with Joyce in Europe, and returned with a copy of "Ulysses." Upon arrival in New York, Cerf forced a reluctant customs officer to seize the book.

 Cerf anticipated the case would end up in court, so he inserted special reviews of "Ulysses" by notable literati into the copy that customs seized, to ensure their admissibility at trial. The court decided for Cerf and dealt a staggering blow to censorship. Today, "Ulysses" seems about as shocking as "Green Eggs and Ham."

Random House grew after the Depression. Merging with Smith & Haas, whose list included William Faulkner, Random House became a very important publisher.

Cerf continued to staff Random with exceedingly competent editors, including Albert Erskine Jr. and Jason Epstein. He was also known to keep his authors happy. In 1960, Random House acquired Alfred A. Knopf for 135,000 shares of Random House stock, worth roughly $3 million, followed a year later by the purchase of Pantheon books. In 1966 RCA acquired Random House.

Cerf died in 1971, at his 42-acre country home in Mount Kisco. His legacy? Under his leadership, publishing entered the 20th century and Random House became the world's largest English-language trade book publisher.

© 2008 by Daniel Alef, syndicated columnist and award-winning author of “Pale Truth,” an American historical novel. Mr. Alef can be reached at

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Wall Street Walks Offering FREE TOURS for Night at the Museums on June 24th

Wall Street Walks will offer free tours of Lower Manhattan on June 24th as a part of the River to River Festival's Night at the Museums.

Tours will leave every 30 minutes, on the hour and half hour, from 4PM to 7:30PM, starting on the sidewalk outside 57 Wall Street. Each tour is limited to 60 people per time slot. 

You may reserve a free advance ticket here. 

Space will also be reserved for walk-ups.

What is the River to River Festival?

Spend the evening visiting the 13 museums and historic sites in Lower Manhattan for free. One of the most concentrated and diverse group of museums in the world, the museums of Lower Manhattan are a genuine American treasure. Museum content and exhibits range from fascinating multimedia shows to intimate galleries of moving personal artifacts to dramatic historical landmarks.And, the sites are within comfortable walking distance of each other. Lower Manhattan is where New York's history and culture begin - start your own journey here.

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Great American Fortunes - August Belmont: The Grand Sachem of New York City

PHOTO by Kurz & Allison circa 1871
In 1877, Charles Dana’s New York Sun reported: “He taught New Yorkers how to eat, how to drink, how to dress, how to drive four-in-hands, how to furnish their houses, how to live generally according to the rules of the possibly somewhat effete, but unquestionably refined, society of the Old World.

August Belmont, the subject of Dana’s story, was a man who ended up in the U. S. by accident, not by design, fell in love with the country, amassed a great fortune, and changed New York forever.

 Born in Germany, Belmont attended a Jewish school, where he was considered untidy, ungovernable, rowdy, and as bullheaded as he was bright. When his father stopped paying for his tuition, Belmont landed a job with the Rothschilds, sweeping floors and polishing furniture. At night he studied French, English, and honed his writing and math skills. Ultimately Belmont became Amschel von Rothschild’s private secretary.

The Rothschilds had major interests in Cuba and sent Belmont to Havana in 1837 to analyze the impact of the Spanish civil war on the island’s economy and on their investments. En route, Belmont stopped in New York City which was in the grip of the Panic of 1837. Belmont decided to visit Rothschilds’ American agents, but discovered they had ceased to exist.

Without consulting the Rothschilds, Belmont remained in New York and took over their American interests. He began to acquire banks and bank notes at depressed prices and made a fortune for the Rothschilds. They rewarded him with a bonus, a $10,000-a-year salary, and a permanent position in the U.S.

Hot tempered, aloof, and at times disdainful, Belmont fought a duel over an insult, the bullet shattering his hip bone. The newspapers accused him of being a roué, but since duels were only fought by gentlemen, Belmont became a “gentleman” in the eyes of Knickerbocker society. The bluebloods began to crave invitations to his extravagant soirées.

 In 1844 he became a naturalized American citizen and five years later married Commodore Matthew Perry’s daughter. Having accumulated a fortune, he turned to politics, working for James K. Polk’s presidential campaign and developing strong ties with the Democratic Party. Subsequently he ran Buchanan’s campaign in New York for the Democratic presidential nomination, but supported Franklin Pierce after he won the nomination. A grateful President Pierce reciprocated by naming Belmont chargé d’affaires at The Hague.

Belmont’s rapid rise to power—by 1860 he was the chairman of the Democratic National Committee—brought about insulting attacks from the Republican press, especially Horace Greeley’s Tribune. Carl Sandburg applauded Belmont’s “anger and courage” in the face of such caustic assaults.

During the Civil War Belmont raised millions for the Union and became an adviser to President Lincoln.

Belmont sponsored a new horse race, the Belmont Stakes. The first running took place in 1867, making it the oldest of the three Triple Crown events. Belmont Park is named after him and his imprint is intertwined with the history of the Kentucky Derby. Belmont died in 1890, leaving a fortune in excess of $50 million.

 © 2008 by Daniel Alef, syndicated columnist and award-winning author of “Pale Truth,” an American historical novel. Mr. Alef can be reached at
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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The New Sheriffs of Wall Street: Where Are They Now?

The New Sherriffs of Wall Street
In May, 2010, Time Magazine identified the “New Sheriffs of Wall Street” as three women whose jobs were to then clean up the Wall Street mess that was referred to as the “Great Recession”.  Included were Sheila Bair, the chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and one of the first federal regulators to publicly sound the alarm about the collapse a few years earlier; Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chair Mary Schapiro, the first woman to hold that post and the deciding vote to initiate the agency's lawsuit against Goldman Sachs; and Elizabeth Warren, chair of the panel monitoring the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bank bailout and the chief advocate for new consumer-finance regulations that banks and their allies have fought furiously to oppose.   These women may not have run Wall Street, but in this new era, they were getting Wall Street to clean up its act.

To quote the Time article:

“A few weeks back, at an event to celebrate the role of women in finance, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner tried to get things started with a joke. He said he had recently come across a headline that asked, "What If Women Ran Wall Street?"

“Now that's an excellent question, but it's kind of a low bar," Geithner continued, deadpan amid rising laughter. "How, you might ask, could women not have done better?"

It is rarely noted that the financial wreckage littering our world is the creation, almost exclusively, of men, not women. And no wonder: to this day, each of the large banks, from Citigroup to Goldman Sachs, employs fewer than a handful of women in senior positions, and only 3% of Fortune 500* companies have a woman as CEO. Embarrassing tales of a testosterone-filled trading culture tumbled out of the what-went-wrong probes as the Great Recession took hold“.

* Update:  According to Catalyst.Org, January, 2014, women currently hold 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions and 4.6 percent of Fortune 1000 CEO positions.

Soon you will be able to visit one of the former “New Sheriffs of Wall Street”, Shelia Bair, and find out where she is now.  At another time, we will catch up with Mary Schapiro and Elizabeth Warren.
First serving under President Bush and later President Obama, Shelia Bair was the Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation during one of the nation’s most turbulent economic eras in history, from 2006-2011.  After the 2008 collapse and upheaval of U.S. and global markets as well as venerable financial institutions, Chairman Bair worked to bolster public confidence and financial system stability that resulted in no runs on bank deposits. The FDIC did not turn to taxpayer borrowing to manage its losses and liquidity needs, instead funding them through its traditional means of assessing banks for the cost of insuring their deposits. The FDIC’s resolution practice of selling failing banks to healthier institutions, while providing credit support of future losses from failed banks’ troubled loans, saved the FDIC’s Deposit Insurance Fund, tens of billions of dollars over losses it would have incurred if the FDIC had liquidated those banks.
Her efforts established her as an ardent advocate and innovator of policies to end the doctrine of too-big-to-fail and taxpayer bailouts.

A working mother and lawyer hailing from Kansas, Bair’s illustrious Curriculum Vitae reads like a Who’s Who in public life:  among her positions were counsel to Senator Bob Dole in his Washington office; Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Markets; and executive level positions at the Government Relations of the New York Stock Exchange; The Commodity Futures Trading Commission and in academia - the Dean’s Professor of Financial Regulatory Policy at UM Amherst.

Shelia Bair, former Chairperson of the U.S. FDIC.
with Ben Bernanke & Hank Paulson
When Bair’s term at the FDIC was over she left in 2011, first serving as an adviser to the nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts,  then leading a new private sector group called the Systemic Risk Council whose mission will be to encourage reform.   Here in the U.S., the Dodd-Frank law was designed, in part, to eliminate systemic risk - that is, the idea that the failure of one institution could be big enough to bring down an entire economy. Implementing financial reform has taken longer than expected, though, and that has many watchdogs increasingly on edge.
Traditionally issues are raised as one moves from regulator to regulated.  
In order to avoid conflicts, Ms. Bair has decided not to work for a financial services firm in the United States.

Earlier this year, Bair joined the board of Spanish bank Santander, one of the largest banks in Europe with vast operations in the U.S., having amassed a number of banks in the wake of the financial crisis.

“I hope that my service on the Santander board will provide yet another avenue for continuing my commitment to reforming the global financial system and contributing to a safer, more responsible, and customer oriented banking system,” Bair said in a statement.

At Santander, Bair, as an independent director, will help advise on the running of a bank whose asset base is as big as the Spanish economy and with the biggest market value of any lender in the euro zone. 

Tim Geithner isn't alone in asking the question, What if women, not men, were the real powers on Wall Street? With the successful tenures of Bair, Schapiro and Warren, we are finally getting an answer.  They were fabulous!

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Great American Fortunes - Walter Annenberg: King of Communication

PHOTO: The Annenberg Foundation
German-born Moses Annenberg owned several tabloids devoted to horse racing and the theater. He also owned a wire service catering to horse racing; it was Bell Telephone's fifth-largest customer.

Moses lived on a 2,000-acre ranch in the Black Hills of Wyoming with his wife, seven daughters and son, Walter. After attending the Wharton School for a year, Walter joined his father’s business. Together they acquired the Miami Tribune, Radio Guide, and several pulp magazines. But in 1936 they made their biggest acquisition, the Philadelphia Inquirer for $15 million—in cash!

Six months later, the IRS indicted Moses and Walter for tax-evasion. Moses agreed to pay $9 million, plead guilty, and go to prison if the IRS would drop the charges against Walter. The IRS agreed. Moses went to prison to serve a three-year sentence.

Walter took the reins of the publishing empire, paid the taxes and renamed the company Triangle Publications. He kept his father's office untouched, but Moses never returned; he died a month after his release from prison.

Annenberg inherited millions from his father and turned it into billions. He had a good sense for media communication. With no magazines catering to young women, he started Seventeen magazine in 1944 and named one of his sisters as editor.

A year later he acquired WFIL AM & FM and, in 1947, formed WFIL-TV Channel 6 in Philadelphia; it became one of the most profitable TV stations in the country. Triangle acquired other TV operations in Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut and California. There were several local TV magazines: TV Digest in Philadelphia, TV Forecast in Chicago, and TV Guides in New York and Washington, D.C. Annenberg acquired them for $3 million and, in April 1953, combined them into a new magazine, TV Guide. TV Guide, was a peculiar magazine, small enough to fit in one's pocket and bearing a price of 15 cents. Pundits scoffed, wondering how a tiny magazine that provided the same information already available in dailies around the country would succeed, but by 1977 it had the largest circulation of any American magazine, 20 million weekly, while generating $1 million in profits—weekly!

Staunchly conservative, Annenberg joined President Nixon's "Kitchen Cabinet" and became a close friend of Ronald Reagan. Yet he vehemently opposed Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Nixon named Annenberg America's ambassador to the Court of St. James in 1969.

Annenberg sold TV Guide and the rest of his Triangle Publications to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. for $3 billion in 1988.

Annenberg was a great philanthropist. One educator said he “was to public education what Andrew Carnegie was to libraries.” Annenberg funded the Annenberg School for Communications at USC, Temple and the University of Pennsylvania. He also gave $25 million to Harvard, $100 million to Peddie, $150 million to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, $50 million to the United Negro College Fund, and $500 million for public school improvement throughout the United States. He died in 2002, bequeathing his $1 billion art collection to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

© 2008 by Daniel Alef

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Friday, May 9, 2014

Introducing our guest writer Daniel Alef and his Great American Fortunes series

Daniel Alef
We are very pleased to be given the opportunity to publish excerpts of Daneil Alef's Great American Fortunes series of biographies. Look for several installments to roll out on the Wall Street Walks blog over the few months. Daniel Alef's bio is quite impressive:

Great American Fortunes is brought to you by Daniel Alef, an award-winning author of PALE TRUTH, an American historical novel, former syndicated columnist, attorney, and executive. He has been an author of articles in the U.S. and abroad ranging from the Journal of Taxation and American Profile to Australian Business Solutions, one tax book for the Bureau of National Affairs (now Bloomberg BNA), and a contributor to Sage Publishing’s ”Gender & Women’s Leadership: A Reference Handbook.” Mr. Alef has been a “best-selling author” in the Apple iBookstore and his ebook titles have been best-sellers on Amazon’s Kindle. Mr. Alef has appeared on, in segments on Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg and on Discovery’s Military Channel in connection with Neil Armstrong, J. Edgar Hoover, and Sterling Hayden, Wehrner von Braun, “Wild Bill” Donovan, the House Committee on un-American Activities and Kelly Johnson. He was recently featured on NPR, German Public Radio, and was quoted in Investors Business Daily in articles on, William WrigleyCyrus McCormickWarren BechtelCornelius VanderbiltJ.P. Morgan, George Pullman, Alfred Sloan, and Jack Northrop.

Mr. Alef attended UCLA (BS), UCLA Law School (JD), the London School of Economics and Political Science (LL.M.), and Cambridge University (Queen’s College). He can be reached at

Daniel Alef
Titans of Fortune Biographical Profiles

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