WBEZ | Great Depression http://www.wbez.org/tags/great-depression Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Guilty or innocent? The saga of Samuel Insull http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-10-26/guilty-or-innocent-saga-samuel-insull-93392 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-October/2011-10-26/sam insull_schmidt.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We've been hearing much lately about greedy capitalists. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, one Chicago tycoon became a national symbol of greedy capitalists. His name was Samuel Insull.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-24/10-26--11-29-1926.jpg" style="border-width: initial; border-color: initial; margin-left: 15px; margin-right: 15px; margin-top: 15px; margin-bottom: 15px; float: left; width: 270px; height: 355px; " title="Time cover boy: 11-29-1926"></p><p>Insull was born poor in London in 1859. As a young man he caught the eye of Thomas Edison, becoming the great inventor's private secretary. Electricity was the new technology of the 1890s, and Sam got in on the ground floor. It was like being the right-hand man of Steve Jobs a century later.</p><p>Insull helped build America's electrical industry, though his talent was financial, not scientific. After revamping the General Electric Company, he settled in Chicago. He merged, modernized, and expanded. By the 1920s his holdings included Commonwealth Edison, Peoples Gas, the Chicago Rapid Transit Company, and several interurban railroads.</p><p>He knew how to make money, and thousands of small investors bought into his companies. Insull was also a philanthropist. He built the Civic Opera House and footed much of the opera company's bill himself.</p><p>Then, in 1929, the Stock Market crashed. As the country moved into the Depression, Insull's companies suffered tremendous losses. Most of his personal fortune was wiped out, along with the life savings of those thousands of small investors.&nbsp;</p><p>Someone had to take the blame. Insull, the hero of the 1920s, was now the villain of the 1930s.</p><p>Insull was in London in October 1932. Back in Chicago, a county grand jury indicted him for fraud and embezzlement. That was followed by federal charges a few months later. Before he could be extradited, Insull skipped out of England.</p><p>He dodged authorities for over a year. Then, in the spring of 1934, Insull was arrested in Turkey. He'd been on a ship headed for Egypt when the Turkish cabinet decided to let the U.S. have him.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-24/10-26--5-14-1934.jpg" style="margin-left: 15px; margin-right: 15px; margin-top: 15px; margin-bottom: 15px; float: right; width: 270px; height: 355px; " title="Time cover boy: 5-14-1934"></p><p>Insull was brought back to Chicago to face the music. He claimed to have done nothing wrong, to have lost money like everyone else. He said he was being made a scapegoat by demagogue politicians.</p><p>He did have a point. Insull was tried three separate times, in three different courts. He was acquitted all three times.</p><p>After the last trial, Insull left the U.S. for good. He died penniless in a Paris subway station in 1938. But he has been immortalized, in an offbeat way.</p><p>Monopoly, the board game, was introduced when the Insull trials were front page news. The next time you play, take a look at the cartoon Monopoly Man. He's the image of Samuel Insull.</p></p> Wed, 26 Oct 2011 12:15:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-10-26/guilty-or-innocent-saga-samuel-insull-93392 The human comedy http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-09-16/human-comedy-91252 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-September/2011-09-16/Chicago 1946_Schmidt.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The Great Depression was a grim time. Yet even then, people needed to laugh. In September 1936, Chicagoans were chuckling over two stories. Both of them were somewhat risque--at least by 1936 standards.</p><p>The first tale begins with Hazel LaBreck, a 27-year-old singer from Wisconsin, traveling to Chicago for a concert audition. On the bus she became acquainted with an older man named Mr. Larue. Larue told the young lady he was a movie agent, and that he might be able to get her a job in Hollywood. But first she had to demonstrate she had a shapely figure.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-August/2011-08-30/09-16--Chicago 1946.jpg" style="width: 490px; height: 349px;" title=""></p><p>LaBreck might have been from farm country, but she was no hick. Once off the bus she called police. Now joined by two detectives, the young woman went to the Morrison Hotel, where she had arranged to meet Larue in his room. The cops waited outside.</p><p>When the young lady arrived, Larue produced copies of official-looking studio contracts and a silhouette chart. Then, taking out a tape measure, he told her to get undressed.</p><p>With that, Hazel LaBreck gave a signal, and the detectives burst in. Larue quickly confessed that he was not a Hollywood agent, but a clothing salesman. He also gave the cops his right name--which wasn't Larue. As he was being led away to the police station, he explained: "Something snapped in my brain when I saw this girl on the bus, that's all."</p><p>The second story involves a movie that Stephen Holish had shot at an Indiana nudist camp. The Eastman Company had refused to develop the film, claiming it was obscene. In response, Holish filed suit against the company in Small Claims Court.</p><p>Judge Samuel Trude heard the case. With attorneys for both sides in agreement, the judge decided to view the film. The courtroom lights were dimmed, and <em>Wonders of the Human Anatomy</em> was screened.</p><p>When the lights came back on, Holish's attorney argued that the film was "just as good and clean as movies of any Sunday school picnic--except that the people haven't got any clothes on." This film was not obscene, because the "leer of the sensual" was absent.</p><p>Judge Trude disagreed. He declared the film indecent, and ruled that Eastman could destroy it.</p><p>I wonder if Holish hired Mr. Larue to direct his next film?</p></p> Fri, 16 Sep 2011 12:15:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-09-16/human-comedy-91252 Wages Rise...As Jobs Are Cut http://www.wbez.org/ahill/2009/02/wages-riseas-jobs-are-cut/7253 <p>James Surowiecki at the New Yorker has an <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2009/03/02/090302ta_talk_surowiecki?printable=true">article </a>‚ that explains why average wages are rising...even as people are losing work.‚  "This is the Age of the Incredible Shrinking Everything. Home prices, the stock market, G.D.P., corporate profits, employment: they're all a fraction of what they once were. Yet amid this carnage there is one thing that, surprisingly, has continued to grow: the paycheck of the average worker. Companies are slashing payrolls: 3.6 million people have lost their jobs since the recession started, with half of those getting laid off in just the past three months. Yet average hourly wages jumped almost four per cent in the past year. It's harder and harder to find and keep a job, but if you've got one you may well be making more than you did twelve months ago. This combination of rising unemployment and higher wages seems improbable. But, as it turns out, it's what history would lead us to expect. Even during the early years of the Great Depression, manufacturing workers actually saw their real wages rise, and wage cuts have been scarce in every recession since. Oil and wheat prices may rise and fall instantaneously to reflect supply and demand, but wages are "sticky": even when the economy goes bad, it takes a lot to make them fall."</p> Wed, 25 Feb 2009 13:46:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/ahill/2009/02/wages-riseas-jobs-are-cut/7253