By 1929, Charles Mitchell, President of the National City Bank (which would become Citibank), had popularized the idea of selling stock and high yield bonds directly to smaller investors. Mitchell and a very small group of bankers, brokers, and speculators manipulated the stock market, grew wealthy and helped create the economic boom of that fabulous decade. Their successes made them folk heroes of the day. The Crash of 1929 chronicles a fateful year through the words and experiences of the descendants of these titans of finance.

In 1929, while the market was rising, seemingly without limits, there were few critics. Based on eight years of continued prosperity, presidents and economists alike confidently predicted that America would soon enter a time when there would be no more poverty, no more depressions — a “New Era” when everyone could be rich.

Instead it was the rich who became richer. Jesse Livermore, a Wall Street insider, drove around town in one of six yellow Rolls Royces. His daughter-in-law describes his two yachts, private railway car and five homes, including an apartment on Fifth Avenue he bought to have a place where he could change clothes for the theater.

Michael Meehan was the stock specialist who manipulated the glamour stock of the day, RCA, from $2.50 a share up to a peak of over $500 a share, making millions for the few who were in on the deal. William Durant, founder of General Motors, was called “King of the Bulls.” In October of 1929, he would lose millions in a desperate, single-handed effort to stop the stock market crash.

Before the crash, the success of these men convinced small investors that the stock market was a sure thing, that Wall Street was the smart place to put one’s money. The film features the recollections of people whose families experienced the crash. Groucho Marx’s son, Arthur, remembers how his famous father detested gambling, yet put his entire life savings in stocks.

The Crash of 1929 captures the unbounded optimism of the age, a time when the stock market epitomized the false promise of permanent prosperity.

My American Experience

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