December 31, 2015: Bright Idea Day, anniversary of the Day the Lights Went On

December 31, 2015

Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, here at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub we celebrate a variety of historically holy days.  December 31, by tradition, is Bright Idea Day, the anniversary of the day Thomas Edison demonstrated for the public a working light bulb, in 1879.

100,000 people gather in Times Square, New York City (surely not the 1 million predicted by NBC!) tonight, and millions more around the world, in festivities for the new year made possible by the work of Thomas Alva Edison.

Here it is, the invention that stole sleep from our grasp, made clubbing possible, and launched 50,000 cartoons about ideas:

The light bulb Thomas Edison demonstrated on December 31, 1879, at Menlo Park, New Jersey - Wikimedia image

The light bulb Thomas Edison demonstrated on December 31, 1879, at Menlo Park, New Jersey – Wikimedia image (GFDL)

The light bulb. It’s an incandescent bulb.

It wasn’t the first bulb. Edison a few months earlier devised a bulb that worked with a platinum filament. Platinum was too expensive for mass production, though — and Edison wanted mass production. So, with the cadre of great assistants at his Menlo Park laboratories, he struggled to find a good, inexpensive filament that would provide adequate life for the bulb. By late December 1879 they had settled on carbon filament.

Edison invited investors and the public to see the bulb demonstrated, on December 31, 1879.

Thomas Edison in 1878, the year before he demonstrated a workable electric light bulb. Library of Congress image

Thomas Edison in 1878, the year before he demonstrated a workable electric light bulb. CREDIT: Thomas Edison, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left, 1880. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction number LC-USZ62-98067

Edison’s successful bulb indicated changes in science, technology, invention, intellectual property and finance well beyond its use of electricity. For example:

  • Edison’s Menlo Park, New Jersey, offices and laboratory were financed with earlier successful inventions. It was a hive of inventive activity aimed to make practical inventions from advances in science. Edison was all about selling inventions and rights to manufacture devices. He always had an eye on the profit potential. His improvements on the telegraph would found his laboratory he thought, and he expected to sell the device to Western Union for $5,000 to $7,000. Instead of offering it to them at a price, however, he asked Western Union to bid on it. They bid $10,000, which Edison gratefully accepted, along with the lesson that he might do better letting the marketplace establish the price for his inventions. Other inventive labs followed Edison’s example, such as the famous Bell Labs, but few equalled his success, or had as much fun doing it.  (Economics teachers:  Need an example of the marketplace in action?)
  • While Edison had some financial weight to invest in the quest for a workable electric light, he also got financial support, $30,000 worth, from some of the finance giants of the day, including J. P. Morgan and the Vanderbilts who established the Edison Light Company.
  • Edison didn’t invent the light bulb — but his improvements on it made it commercial. “In addressing the question ‘Who invented the incandescent lamp?’ historians Robert Friedel and Paul Israel list 22 inventors of incandescent lamps prior to Joseph Wilson Swan and Thomas Edison. They conclude that Edison’s version was able to outstrip the others because of a combination of three factors: an effective incandescent material, a higher vacuum than others were able to achieve (by use of the Sprengel pump) and a high resistance lamp that made power distribution from a centralized source economically viable.”
  • Edison’s financial and business leadership acumen is partly attested to by the continuance of his organizations, today — General Electric, one of the world’s most successful companies over the past 40 years, traces its origins to Edison.

Look around yourself this evening, and you can find a score of ways that Edison’s invention and its descendants affect your life. One of the more musing effects is in cartooning, however. Today a glowing lightbulb is universally accepted as a nonverbal symbol for ideas and inventions. (See Mark Parisi’s series of lightbulb cartoons, “Off the Mark.”)

Even with modern, electricity-saving bulbs, the cartoon shorthand hangs on, as in this Mitra Farmand cartoon.

Fusilli has an idea, Mitra Farmand, Fuffernutter

Brilliant cartoon from Mitra Farmand, Fuffernutter (regrettably, we note this site is no longer there; but with some hope, we find a new site here)

Or see this wonderful animation, a video advertisement for United Airlines, by Joanna Quinn for Fallon — almost every frame has the symbolic lightbulb in it.

Electrification of America, and the consequent spread of electric lighting and electrical machines to make domestic and industrial life more productive, and the spread of great public works to enable these and other inventions to spread, were made possible by a people roughly united in advancing progress, what historians now call “the progressive agenda” and the great advances of the Progressive Era.

Could we get such agreement among workers, corporate bosses and many levels of government today? When we celebrate anniversaries, like the demonstration of the light bulb, we celebrate the united polity that made such things possible, too.

Other resources:

Patent drawing for Thomas Edison's successful electric lamp. Library of Congress

Thomas Edison’s electric lamp patent drawing and claim for the incandescent light bulb CREDIT: “New Jersey–The Wizard of Electricity–Thomas A. Edison’s System of Electric Illumination,” 1880. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number LC-USZ62-97960.

Yeah, this is mostly an encore post. ‘Tis the season for tradition, especially good, wise tradition.

Even More, in 2012 and 2013:


December 30, 2015, Hubble Day! Look to the stars for our future

December 30, 2015

[Today is actually the day!  You may fly your flag if you choose.  This is the traditional Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub Hubble Day post.]

Lift a glass of champagne today in tribute to Edwin Hubble and his great discovery. Not sure what to call it — Hubble Day, Looking Up Day, Endless Possibilities Day — whatever, this is the anniversary of Edwin Hubble’s announcement that he had discovered the universe is much, much larger than anyone had imagined, containing far more stars than anyone had dared guess.

It’s a big universe out there.

Ultraviolet image of the Andromeda Galaxy. Wired caption: Photo: Edwin Hubble’s 1920s observations of Andromeda (whose ultraviolet spectrum is rendered here) expanded our notions of the size and nature of a universe that is itself expanding. Galaxy Evolution Explorer image courtesy NASA.

Ultraviolet image of the Andromeda Galaxy. Wired caption: “Photo: Edwin Hubble’s 1920s observations of Andromeda (whose ultraviolet spectrum is rendered here) expanded our notions of the size and nature of a universe that is itself expanding. Galaxy Evolution Explorer image courtesy NASA.”

So, today is a good day to celebrate the universe in all it’s glory – December 30.

On December 30, 1924, Edwin Hubble announced he’d discovered other galaxies in distant space. Though it may not have been so clear at the time, it meant that, as a galaxy, we are not alone in the universe (whether we are alone as intelligent life is a separate question). It also meant that the universe is much, much bigger than most people had dared to imagine.

91 years ago today.

I keep trying to get people to celebrate.

In 2008 for Hubble Day, Wired picked up on the story (with a gracious link to 2007’s post here at the Bathtub). Wired includes several links to even more information, a good source of information. See Wired’s 2009 post here.

Hubble was the guy who showed us the universe is not only bigger than we imagined, it’s probably much bigger and much more fantastic than we can imagine. (See J. B. S. Haldane’s “queerer” quote.) Hubble is the guy who opened our imaginations to the vastness of all creation.

Hubble’s work would have been impossible without the earlier work of one of the great, unsung women of science, Henrietta Leavitt, as Wired explained:

He trained the powerful new 100-inch telescope at Mount Wilson in Southern California on spiral nebulae. These fuzzy patches of light in the sky were generally thought to be clouds of gas or dust within our galaxy, which was presumed to include everything in the universe except the Magellanic Clouds. Some nebulae seemed to contain a few stars, but nothing like the multitudes of the Milky Way.

Hubble not only found a number of stars in Andromeda, he found Cepheid variable stars. These stars vary from bright to dim, and a very smart Harvard computationist named Henrietta Leavitt had discovered in 1912 that you could measure distance with them. Given the brightness of the star and its period — the length of time it takes to go from bright to dim and back again — you could determine how far away it is.

Hubble used Leavitt’s formula to calculate that Andromeda was approximately 860,000 light years away. That’s more than eight times the distance to the farthest stars in the Milky Way. This conclusively proved that the nebulae are separate star systems and that our galaxy is not the universe.

How does one celebrate Hubble Day? Here are some suggestions:

  • Easier than Christmas cards: Send a thank-you note to your junior high school science teacher, or whoever it was who inspired your interest in science. Mrs. Hedburg, Mrs. Andrews, Elizabeth K. Driggs, Herbert Gilbert, Mr. Willis, and Stephen McNeal, thank you.
  • Rearrange your Christmas/Hanukkah/Eid/KWANZAA lights in the shape of the Andromeda Galaxy — or in the shape of any of the great photos from the Hubble Telescope (Andromeda Galaxy pictured above; Hubble images here)

    A few of the images from the Hubble Telescope

    A few of the images from the Hubble Telescope

  • Go visit your local science museum; take your kids along – borrow somebody else’s kids if you have to (take them along, too); this year, in Dallas, you can visit the Perot Museum of Nature and Science — it’s a doozy
  • Spend two hours in your local library, just looking through the books on astronomy and the universe
  • Write a letter to your senators and congressman; tell them space exploration takes a minuscule portion of our federal budget, but it makes us dream big; tell them we need to dream big, and so they’d better make sure NASA is funded well.  While you’re at it, put in a plug for funding Big Bird and the rest of public broadcasting, too.  Science education in this nation more and more becomes the science shows on NPR and PBS, watched by kids who learned to read and think by watching Big Bird.
  • Anybody got a good recipe for a cocktail called “The Hubble?” “The Andromeda?” Put it in the comments, please.  “The Hubble” should have bubbles in it, don’t you think?  What was it the good monk said?  He was working to make great wine, but goofed somewhere, and charged the wine with another dose of yeast.  When he uncorked the very first bottle of what would come to be called champagne, Benedictine Monk Dom Pierre Perignon said “I am drinking stars!”  Except, he said it in French.  In any case, a Hubble cocktail should have bubbles, some of Perignon’s stars.

The encore post, from 2007:

December 30, 1924, Edwin Hubble announced the results of his observations of distant objects in space.

PBS

Edwin Hubble

In 1924, he announced the discovery of a Cepheid, or variable star, in the Andromeda Nebulae. Since the work of Henrietta Leavitt had made it possible to calculate the distance to Cepheids, he calculated that this Cepheid was much further away than anyone had thought and that therefore the nebulae was not a gaseous cloud inside our galaxy, like so many nebulae, but in fact, a galaxy of stars just like the Milky Way. Only much further away. Until now, people believed that the only thing existing outside the Milky Way were the Magellanic Clouds. The Universe was much bigger than had been previously presumed.

Later Hubble noted that the universe demonstrates a “red-shift phenomenon.” The universe is expanding. This led to the idea of an initial expansion event, and the theory eventually known as Big Bang.

Hubble’s life offered several surprises, and firsts:

Hubble was a tall, elegant, athletic, man who at age 30 had an undergraduate degree in astronomy and mathematics, a legal degree as a Rhodes scholar, followed by a PhD in astronomy. He was an attorney in Kentucky (joined its bar in 1913), and had served in WWI, rising to the rank of major. He was bored with law and decided to go back to his studies in astronomy.

In 1919 he began to work at Mt. Wilson Observatory in California, where he would work for the rest of his life. . . .
Hubble wanted to classify the galaxies according to their content, distance, shape, and brightness patterns, and in his observations he made another momentous discovery: By observing redshifts in the light wavelengths emitted by the galaxies, he saw that galaxies were moving away from each other at a rate constant to the distance between them (Hubble’s Law). The further away they were, the faster they receded. This led to the calculation of the point where the expansion began, and confirmation of the big bang theory. Hubble calculated it to be about 2 billion years ago, but more recent estimates have revised that to 20 billion years ago.

An active anti-fascist, Hubble wanted to joined the armed forces again during World War II, but was convinced he could contribute more as a scientist on the homefront. When the 200-inch telescope was completed on Mt. Palomar, Hubble was given the honor of first use. He died in 1953.

“Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science.”

That news on December 30, 1924, didn’t make the first page of the New York Times. The Times carried a small note on February 25, 1925, that Hubble won a $1,000 prize from the American Academy for the Advancement of Science.

(Does anyone have a suitable citation for that video? Where did it come from? Who produced it? Is there more somewhere?)

Happy Hubble Day! Look up!

Resources:

Hubble Space Telescope - NASA image

Hubble Space Telescope, working homage to Edwin Hubble – NASA image

Even More Resources:

Andromeda as we can see it today. Wikimedia image: The Andromeda Galaxy is a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light-years away in the constellation Andromeda. The image also shows Messier Objects 32 and 110, as well as NGC 206 (a bright star cloud in the Andromeda Galaxy) and the star Nu Andromedae. This image was taken using a hydrogen-alpha filter.

Andromeda as we can see it today. Wikimedia image: The Andromeda Galaxy is a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light-years away in the constellation Andromeda. The image also shows Messier Objects 32 and 110, as well as NGC 206 (a bright star cloud in the Andromeda Galaxy) and the star Nu Andromedae. This image was taken using a hydrogen-alpha filter.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Great jingle bell jazz, from Wynton Marsalis and the JLCO

December 30, 2015

Image from Avi Ofer's film,

Image from Avi Ofer’s film, “Jingle Bells,” with the JLCO. Image from Jazz Blog

Great animation, great orchestra, great arrangement, great song!

YouTube description and details:

Make the Yuletide swing with Jingle Bells from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis! Jingle Bells is featured on BIG BAND HOLIDAYS, their new album out now on Blue Engine Records.

Produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center and 1504
Animation by Avi Ofer

Buy BIG BAND HOLIDAYS: http://ow.ly/UlULZ

BIG BAND HOLIDAYS is the first holiday album ever released by DownBeat Readers Poll’s Best Big Band of 2013 & 2014, Big Band Holidays features original big band arrangements of timeless favorites including Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, We Three Kings, and White Christmas. Nine-time GRAMMY Award winner and Pulitzer Prize winner Wynton Marsalis and the JLCO are joined by special guest vocalists Cécile McLorin Salvant, Gregory Porter, and René Marie on what’s sure to become a holiday classic.

Subscribe to our channel: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCP108…

To learn more about Jazz at Lincoln Center, visit us at http://www.jazz.org

Especially with two or three FM stations in Dallas running Christmas music nonstop from Thanksgiving to Christmas, I grow weary of the same, hoary old arrangements. Nor can I live forever on the great choral stuff from the classical station.

Jazz at Christmas puts me at ease, and into the spirit.

So it is that every Christmas, after the actual holiday, I go shopping for deals on Christmas jazz. This new album from Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) is good enough, it may not be discounted. Marketers will hold it until next year. When we buy from Blue Engine Records, profits probably support Jazz at Lincoln Center.

But you can listen to it now, with the wonderful Avi Ofer animation above.

Or, listen to every song from the album performed live just a few weeks ago:


December 30 is Hubble Day; are you ready to celebrate?

December 29, 2015

Get ready to look up!

Edwin Hubble.

Edwin Hubble. (Photo credit: snaphappygeek)

At Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub, for several years we’ve celebrated Hubble Day on December 30.

On December 30, 1924, Edwin Hubble announced he’d discovered other galaxies in distant space. Though it may not have been so clear at the time, it meant that, as a galaxy, we are not alone in the universe (whether we are alone as intelligent life is a separate question). It also meant that the universe is much, much bigger than most people had dared to imagine.

December 30, 2015 is the 91st anniversary of the announcement.  When dealing with general science illiteracy, it’s difficult to believe we’ve been so well informed for more than nine decades.  In some quarters, news travels more slowly than sound in the vacuum of space.

I find hope in many places.  Just three years ago the Perot Museum of Nature and Science opened in downtown Dallas.  It’s the old Dallas Museum of Science and Natural History, once cramped into a bursting building in historic Fair Park, now expanded into a beautiful new building downtown, and keeping the Fair Park building, too.  Considering the strength of creationism in Texas, it’s great news that private parties would put up $185 million for a museum dedicated to hard science.

Displays in the Perot border on brilliance at almost every stop.  Stuffy museum this is not — it’s designed to spark interest in science and engineering in kids, and I judge that it succeeds, though we need to wait 20 years or so to see just exactly what and who it inspires.

We visited the Perot regularly through 2014.  On one visit in 2012, as I was admiring a large map of the Moon, a family strolled by, and a little girl I estimated to be 8 or 9 pointed to the Moon and asked her maybe-30-something father where humans landed.  I had been working to see whether the very large photo showed any signs of activity — but the father didn’t hesitate, and pointed to the Sea of Tranquility.  “There,” he said.  The man was not old enough to have been alive at the time; I’d wager most of my contemporaries would hesitate, and maybe have to look it up.  Not that guy.

Visitors to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas

On 32 flat-panel video displays hooked together to make one massive display, visitors to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science view Mars as our new Mars Rover’s friend might see it, in a section of the museum devoted to astronomy, physics, astronomy and planetary exploration. Photo by Ed Darrell; use encouraged with attribution.

Still, kids today need this museum and the knowledge and excitement it imparts.  One recent July I accompanied a group of Scouts from Troop 355 to summer camp in Colorado, to Camp Chris Dobbins in the foothills just east of Colorado Springs.  Near lights out one night I hiked the half-mile to our campsite admiring the Milky Way and other bright displays of stars that we simply do not get in light-polluted Dallas County.  I expected that our older Scouts would have already started on the Astronomy merit badge, but the younger ones may not have been introduced.  So I asked how many of them could find the Milky Way.  Not a hand went up.

“Dowse the lights, let’s have a five minute star lesson,” I said.  we trekked out to a slight opening in the trees, and started looking up.  I had just enough time to point out the milky fog of stars we see of our own galaxy, when one of the Scouts asked how to tell the difference between an airplane and a satellite.  Sure enough, he’d spotted a satellite quietly passing overhead — and just to put emphasis on the difference, a transcontinental jet passed over flying west towards Los Angeles or San Francisco.

Then, when we were all looking up, a meteoroid streaked from the south across almost the whole length of the visible Milky Way.  Teenage kids don’t often go quiet all at once, but after the oohs and aahs we had a few moments of silence.  They were hooked already.  Less than five minutes in, they’d seen the Milky Way, found the Big Dipper, seen a satellite, a jet, and a shooting star.

Perfection!

Edwin Hubble’s discovery can now be the stuff of elementary school science, that the blobs in the sky astronomers had pondered for a century were really galaxies like our own, which we see only through a faint fuzz we call the Milky Way.

Do kids get that kind of stuff in elementary school?  Not enough, I fear.

We named a great telescope after the guy; shouldn’t we do a bit more to celebrate his discovery?

More:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Happy birthday as a state, Texas! – 170 years old

December 29, 2015

It’s Texas Statehood day, the 170th anniversary of Texas joining the Union — or as some Texans prefer, the anniversary of Texas’s making America great.

According to the U.S. flag code, people should fly their U.S. flags on their state’s statehood day.

Not many Texans are, if any. Can you find someone honoring statehood day?

texas our texas

U.S. and Texas flags at the Texas Capitol – photo: jmtimages

170 years ago today: Rub your pet armadillo’s belly, slaughter the fatted longhorn, crank up the barbecue pit with the mesquite wood, put Willie Nelson and Bob Wills on the mp3 player, put the “Giant” DVD on the television, and raise your glass of Big Red, Dr. Pepper, or Lone Star Beer (or Pearl, or Shiner Bock, Sir Williams English Brown Ale, or Llano Wine).

U.S. Flag Code rules urge flying the U.S. flag on the anniversary of a state’s joining the Union — even as much as that will frost the tiny band of desperate Texas secessionists.  (Will the secessionists fly the Texas flag at half-staff?)

Texas was admitted to the union of the United States of America on December 29, 1845.

President Polk's authorization to affix Great Seal of the U.S. to Texas Statehood documents

President Polk’s Authorization to affix the Great Seal to Texas Statehood documents – Texas Memorial Museum, University of Texas at Austin

The text of Polk’s message:

I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of State to affix the Seal of the United States to an authenticated copy of “an act to extend the laws of the United States over the State of Texas and for other purposes” approved Dec. 29, 1845 dated this day, and signed by me and for so doing this shall be his warrant.

James K. Polk
Washington, Dec. 29, 1845

Seal of the U.S. affixed to Texas Statehood Proclamation

Great Seal of the United States of America, affixed to the Texas Statehood Proclamation – image from State Archives Division, Texas State Library

Resources:

More:

The Texas Ranger Museum took note of the day (no, not the baseball Rangers):

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. It is an annual event, after all. And, fighting ignorance requires patience and persistence.

 


Banksy’s modern Nativity, revisited in 2015: Trump’s wall, and Jesus

December 25, 2015

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
==> Georges Santayana,
The Life of Reason, vol. 1: Reason in Common Sense)

Those who don’t pay attention to history are condemned to repeat it? Then, gods forbid we should have leaders among the condemned, and heaven keep us from joining their folly.

Has there ever been a good wall that actually worked to keep trouble away? Do we need to rebuild the Berlin Wall in the Americas?

Thomas Nast helped bring down the crooks at Tammany Hall with cartoons. Boss Tweed, the chief antagonist of Nast, crook and leader of the Tammany Gang, understood that Nast’s drawings could do him in better than just hard hitting reporting — the pictures were clear to people who couldn’t read.

But a cartoon has to get to an audience to have an effect.

Here’s a cartoon below, a comment on the security wall being built in Israel, that got very little circulation in the west at Christmas time. Can you imagine the impact had this drawing run in newspapers in Europe, the U.S., and Canada?

It’s a mashup of a famous oil painting* related to the Christian Nativity, from a London-based artist who goes by the name Banksy. (Warning: Banksy pulls no punches; views shown are quite strong, often very funny, always provocative, generally safe for work unless you work for an authoritarian like Dick Cheney who wants no counter opinions.)

banksy-israels-wall-77721975_fda236f91a.jpg

Banksy’s modern nativity — does he ever bother to copyright his stuff, or would he rather you broadcast it?

*  At least I thought so in 2008.  I can’t find the painting now.  Anybody recognize a work underneath Banksy’s re-imagining?  Let us know in comments, eh?  Perhaps this one, by David Roberts?  Perhaps this engraving after Joseph M. W. TurnerTurner’s original? Plus, in 2008, most people said “Banksy who?”

Tip of the old scrub brush to Peoples Geography.

More, in 2011: 

More in 2012:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Learning economics on Christmas vacation: What’s a bank run?

December 25, 2015

In education we miss out on most information technological innovation. Textbooks were notoriously dull when books were the chief medium found in schools. Schools took 60 years to make progress in showing film. Television, which started out commercially as a great education tool — what was arguably the best orchestra in the U.S. used to play every Sunday on NBC way back when. Then video, then computers, then the internet and personal data devices penetrated modern life, but not yet schools.

So I am always pleased to hear after Christmas break the questions high school economics and history students came back to class with, especially after “having to watch” that hoary and venerable old movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Frank Capra’s film cuts through the fog on some important history and economics issues.

Not that you find it used much in U.S. schools. What follows is a blog post I did for my U.S. history blog some years back, to answer some of those student questions.

New York -- a classic

George Bailey (played by actor Jimmy Stewart) works to deal with a run on the Bailey Savings & Loan Association in Bedford Falls, New York — a classic “run on the bank” — in the 1946 movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” by Frank Capra. Image from Warner Bros., via Our Values blog.

“What’s a bank run?”

Whenever we get to the Great Depression, somebody asks about bank runs. What is a “run on the bank?” Why would people suddenly rush to get their cash out of the bank? And why can’t the bank just pay it out?

Frank Capra showed and explained it best, probably, in his 1946 film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But first, my weak attempt:

Banks don’t keep all the money deposited there in the vault. Banks make money by loaning out to others the money put on deposit. The people who get the loans must pay interest on the loan, and that allows the bank to pay interest on the deposits people put there (precious little today — my first account paid 5.25% on my first $5.00 deposit; today you’re lucky to get 1%, and you have to have a sizable minimum, generally. But I digress . . .).

So, if you and a hundred other people each deposit $100 in the bank, the bank turns around and loans out as much as they can. Of the $10,000 deposited, say, they loan out $9,000 to the guy who lives next door to you, so he can put an addition on his house. He’ll pay it back, with interest.

But, that loan means that there is only $1,000 left in the vault. Generally a 10% “reserve” will cover all the cash transactions a bank makes in a day. That is, if they have 10% of their total assets sitting in the vault, making no new money for them, it is highly unlikely that in a normal day there will be a demand for more than about $1,000 of that $10,000 on deposit. (The actual reserve amounts vary; last time I looked, several months ago, the Federal Reserve Board required member banks to hold about 7% of their total assets in cash on hand.)

You can begin to see why a bank run is a problem. If, in one day, every depositor showed up and demanded their deposit, the bank couldn’t pay them all. This is a death sentence in the banking world, for a bank to be unable to meet obligations, and generally that would mean that the bank would be out of business. But of course, that’s rather unfair to the bank — they have their money (your money, really) loaned out to dozens of other people. When those loans come in, the bank will have the cash to pay.

A run on the bank puts a kink in those careful, conservative calculations of how much cash a bank needs to have on hand to cover all the transactions of a day.

Banks fear a run. That’s what killed banks in 1932 and 1933, in the last year of the Hoover administration. Even a good bank could be doomed by an unjustified run — no bank could repay all of its depositors, in cash, on any one day.

Roosevelt’s bank holiday, just a week after his inauguration, stopped the runs for that week. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insured deposits, so that even were there a run on a bank, a depositor could get his or her money back. Those measures essentially stopped runs on banks for decades.

Frank Capra’s 1946 movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” tells the story of a man who manages a small town savings and loan association, which is similar to a bank in that it accepts deposits and loans money, but different from a bank in that it is chartered for the benefit of its depositors, or members, and not for a bank corporation. In fact, the antagonist in the film is the town banker, Potter, who does what he can to bring the savings and loan to ruin.

In one memorable scene, a rumor that the savings and loan is about to fail prompts dozens of the members to make a run — indeed, there is also a run on the bank at the same time. Jimmy Stewart explains to the members why he can’t pay everybody . . . but he also has an infusion of $2,000 cash he plans to cash for his honeymoon. This is what a bank run looks like, with a smart banker (savings and loan manager in this case) who can keep his organization going:

This film clip is undoubtedly copyrighted by the current owners of the film’s intellectual property. I wish they would make it available for classroom use without heavy copyright fees, in the interest of the public.

It’s another case of a fictional film portraying history better than any history book, and economics, too. Licensing the film for classroom use costs more than teachers can pay — plus, in the dog-eat-teachers world of the War on Education, few administrators stand the use of fiction in history and economics classes. That’s before a teacher even gets to the issue of whether there is technical support to show the film.

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