More than stocks and balance sheets


By Ashley Chapman

Want to see ticker tape from the stock market crash of 1929? Or a picture of FDR returning from the 1943 Casablanca Conference aboard a Pan Am Clipper?

You can, at the museum of American Financial History on Broadway. It was founded by John Herzog, an avid collector of financial memorabilia and former chairman of a Wall Street firm. The museum is now an affiliate of the Smithsonian.

The FDR photo is part of the current exhibit, “Pan Am and the Golden Age of Air Travel.” When Wilbur Wright and Glenn Curtis completed the world’s first air race by flying around the Statue of Liberty in 1903, a 10-year old boy named Juan Tripp watched with awe. By the time he was 40, Tripp, himself became an aviation pioneer with the world’s first commercial airline, Pan American Airways.

Tripp, a former Navy pilot, founded Long Island Airways, the first New York commuter airline. Although the enterprise crumbled two years later, Tripp had learned how to run an airline.

In 1927, he convinced 12 wealthy friends, including Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney and William A. Rockefeller, to invest in a consortium called Aviation Corporation of America. Other aviation companies joined them to form Pan American Airways, the world’s first commercial and international airline.

By the fall of 1927, Pan Am was flying regular mail service between Key West and Havana. Tripp brokered acquisitions with other airlines and soon Pan Am expanded throughout Latin America. It was the first airline to use radio while in flight (1928), and the first to fly across to Asia (1931), Siberia (1934) and Africa (1941). And when Pearl Harbor was attacked, it was a Pan Am Clipper that completed the first round-the-world flight to return to America.

Between 1935 and 1946, Tripp’s Pan Am Clippers dominated the “Golden Age of Air Travel” as his machinery – half boat, half plane – took off and landed in harbors around the Pacific. The Pan Am Clipper was considered a luxury plane. It could carry up to 74 passengers and included dining lounges, sleeping berths and dressing rooms. There are photos of the Pan Am Boeing B-314s, which were sold to the US Navy and the British during the Second World War.

The Museum located at 28 Broadway, the former headquarters of the venerable Standard Oil Company, offers educational programs such as business summer camps, simulated stock market trading and a curriculum for middle school on financial literacy. Its collection includes over 10,000 financial documents, but most of them are in storage in Washington, D.C.

“If we put 10,000 financial documents on the wall, people’s eyes would glaze over,” says Kristin Aguilera, communications director for the Museum.

Another traveling exhibit currently at the Museum features Nobel Prize winners, complete with videos and pictures of recipients, such as Albert Einstein for physics (1921) and Gorbachev for peace (1986). Trivia boards challenge visitors with questions such as: “Which high school has the greatest number of laureates among its alumni?” (Bronx Science High School.)

In another corner, an exhibit features less celebrated institutions – those involved in recent market scandals. Stock certificates of ImClone, WorldCom, Enron and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia are mounted next to brief descriptions of the corporate malfeasance that plagued each corporation.

The exhibit also includes a picture frame of the New York City Recovery Bond, which was established in the days following Sept. 11, 2001 and was oversubscribed within 24 hours.

Visitors can print their own ticker tape from a replica of a Thomas Edison printer.

On Sept. 23, the Museum will feature the exhibit “Do It Yourself” in honor of the Small Business Administration’s 50th anniversary. It will highlight 25 mom and pop shops that were founded on a dream and a business loan and morphed into national brands, such as Apple Computers, Federal Express, Intel Corporation and Ben & Jerry’s.

“Pan Am and the Golden Age of Air Travel” will be on display until December 2003. The Museum archives and library are also located in the building and are available by appointment.