Historical Echoes: The Founding and Foundation of the New York Fed
On November 17, 1914, the New York Times reported on Treasury Secretary W. G. McAdoo’s involvement in the authorization of the Federal Reserve System’s operations, including a notice to member Banks, telegrams, and new Reserve notes. Appearing with the article is a copy of the receipt for the first Reserve payment.
Paul M. Warburg, original New York member of the Federal Reserve Board, wrote:
The 16th of November may be considered as the Fourth of July in the economic life of the United States. Coming generations will commemorate it as marking the foundation of our financial emancipation.
The foundation that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York provided to the financial system was also notable for the people and materials involved in constructing the building. The plots of land selected for the building were purchased from 1918 to 1919, with actual construction delayed until the associated costs went down after the end of World War I. The building’s creation involved wide public participation, beginning with the 1921 architectural competition. A thirty-three-page document containing precise requirements became the basis for judging the competitors’ contract proposals to design the new building.
In addition, the multicolored Indiana limestone and Ohio sandstone used in the construction were unusual for the time, when monochromatic buildings were the standard. The colorful masonry was incorporated, as the architects felt that this feature would relieve the plainness of the building’s exterior walls. Additionally, the commission of the building’s priceless ironwork by the now-legendary Samuel Yellin involved more tonnage of materials than other buildings he worked on, such as those at Harvard University or the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The result was an instant classic, a building listed in both the New York State and National Registries of Historic Places.
In the course of the ninety-nine years since its inception, the Federal Reserve System has continued to progress toward its goal of providing “safety, independence, and gradual, healthy expansion” to the United States. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York building has evolved over the decades as well: a restoration effort taking more than fifteen years is projected to be completed in 2014. This overhaul of the building includes infrastructure improvements, technology and electrical system upgrades, and a deep-cleaning of the masonry. Relatedly, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is currently nearing its 2013 centennial, and has created a site containing more information on the people and events that have shaped its past 100 years.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of the author.
Megan Cohen is a research librarian in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Research and Statistics Group.