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This is a story about a humorous bank ad that morphed into a promotional campaign. It’s a tale that shares themes with four previous Historical Echoes posts about Barbie, bank promotions, and bank tellers.
In 1970, New Britain Bank and Trust (inactive as of 1984) ran a television advertisement that starred a real-life bank robber touting a safety feature of its new “face card.” (A History Channel video includes interesting preliminaries about how the journalists obtained the ad; the ad itself starts at 5:44.) Why would this bank be willing to create such an ad? Of course, neither this bank, nor any other bank, nor any Federal Reserve Bank would condone the act of robbing a bank. But this particular thief, the notorious Willie Sutton (1901-80), was different from typical bank robbers. Let’s consider why:
J.K. Rowling, David Byrne, Eric Idle—In recent years, these captivating figures have delivered commencement addresses at Harvard, Columbia University and Whitman College, respectively. Of course, Federal Reserve chairs give commencement speeches too, and good ones. NPR maintains a list of some standouts, “The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever” (this is a cool interactive website that enables you to search by name, school, year, or by theme—play, inner voice, embrace failure, change the world, make art, etc.). Its roundup of graduation season remarks includes Janet Yellen’s 2014 speech at New York University, and Ben Bernanke’s 2013 speech at Princeton. Another list, “Best Commencement Speeches Of All Time,” includes Alan Greenspan’s 1999 commencement speech at Harvard.
You might hear: “Economy eschmonomy.” Another possibility is: “Economy schmeconomy.” This phenomenon of repeating a word with the prefix shm- (or sometimes “schm-”), is called shm-reduplication. It challenges the relevance and sometimes the value of the repeated word, and examples can be found in articles like this Newsday clip “The High End: Economy, shmeconomy — the rich still travel.”
Which of the following statements is true (you may choose more than one): (a) you are more likely to get a job at the Fed if you look like a Barbie doll, (b) you are less likely to get a job at the Fed if you look like a Barbie doll, (c) the inventor of the Barbie doll sat on the Board of Directors of a Federal Reserve Bank, (d) a key cleaner/restorer of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York building has strong ties to Architect Barbie, (e) a Federal Reserve Bank has used Barbie in its economic education program.
Have you seen these people? You might come upon them wearing historic period garb. The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), founded in 1966, is, according to its website, “an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe.” The members like to recreate life in an earlier time, which means using the technology existing at that time and eschewing later technology (not all the time, just when they are in “anachronism mode”).
Mary Roebling (1904-94) was the first woman to serve as president of a major U.S. bank. (She was also the first woman governor of the American Stock Exchange, among numerous other honors.) According to a New York Times obituary, she came into her position through a combination of happenstance and preparation:
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