Thursday the 24th October 1929, known as Black Thursday, is generally accepted as the first day of the Wall Street Crash. The day saw panic selling of shares on the New York Stock Exchange on an unprecedented scale, with over 12.8 million being sold and the market’s value plummeting by 11%. The market didn’t return to its pre-crash level until 1954.
Signs of an impending crisis had been identified many months before the crash, with the Federal Reserve warning on the 25th March of the dangers of speculation on the stock market. The warning coincided with a slowing down of the American economy, but investors continued to purchase stocks that gradually pushed the market to a peak of 381.17 points on the 3rd September.
However, in late September many of the larger investors began to sell their shares, and by the middle of October the market was in freefall as more and more people began panicking about the plummeting prices. Although Black Thursday was the first day of large-scale panic selling, the losses were dwarfed by those the following week when around 16 million shares were sold. Within just a few days of trading, $30 billion dollars had been wiped off the stock market. This was the Wall Street Crash. Although the scale of panic selling did slow down, the market continued its downward trajectory for over 2 years, finally reaching an all-time low on the 8th July 1932. By that time the effect of the Great Depression had crept around the world, acting as a catalyst for the world war that was to follow.
The Tyneside town of Jarrow had been the site for Palmer’s Shipyard that was responsible for a large proportion of the town’s employment. Having operated since 1851, the yard was sold in 1933 due to a collapse in the British shipbuilding industry and the impact of the Great Depression.
The shipyard closed shortly afterwards and, although American entrepreneur T. Vosper Salt proposed turning the site into a steelworks, he was forced to withdraw after members of the British Iron and Steel Federation lobbied to make the project unfeasible.
The collapse of the steelwork plan was a devastating blow to the people of Jarrow, where unemployment had hit 70% in the months following the closure of the shipyard. In response David Riley, the chairman of Jarrow Borough Council, proposed a march to London in order to raise the profile of the economic disaster.
The marchers had the full support of their local Labour MP, Ellen Wilkinson, and secured funding for the march from the local community including all the political parties. Over 1,200 men volunteered to take part in the march, of whom 200 were chosen to take the petition to London. They marched for 25 days and received a generally positive reception wherever they passed through.
Arriving in London on 31 October the marchers entrusted the petition of 11,000 names to Wilkinson, who presented it in the House of Commons on 4 November. It achieved no immediate response from the government, and the marchers returned home feeling that they had failed.
On the 26th September 1923, German Chancellor Gustav Stresemann ended passive resistance in the Ruhr and resumed the payment of First World War reparations. By doing so he was able to slow down the economic crisis that was enveloping the country and show that he accepted the international realities of the new era. Although greeted with anger from both Left and Right Wing parties, Stresemann’s actions laid the foundation for the economic recovery that Germany experienced up until the onset of the Great Depression.
The 1921 London Schedule of Payments set out both the reparations amount, and the timetable over which Germany was expected to pay for its defeat in the First World War. However, from the very start of the payments Germany missed some its targets. Failure to provide the full quota of coal and timber in December 1922, provided the excuse for France and Belgium to occupy the Ruhr on the 11th January 1923.
Occupation was met with passive resistance, and the striking workers were paid with money printed by the government. This contributed to the rampant hyperinflation that had begun to cripple the economy from before the occupation even began. Aware that the situation was unsustainable, Stresemann – who had only been Chancellor for six weeks – called off passive resistance after nine months and started to pay reparations again. This marked the start of Germany’s international rehabilitation, although within Germany it was met with opposition from both Left and Right extremists. For that reason, Stresemann asked President Ebert to announce a state of emergency under Article 48 of the constitution on the same day.
Alexander Hamilton was made the first United States Secretary of the Treasury by President George Washington.
Alexander Hamilton was born on the Caribbean island of Nevis to a Scottish-born father and a half-British, half-French Huguenot mother who had left her husband and son on the Danish-ruled island of St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. Alexander’s parents were consequently unmarried when he was born, and he became an orphan around the age of twelve following his mother’s death. His father had left the family a number of years earlier, and Hamilton moved to live first with his older cousin and later a wealthy merchant.
Hamilton secured work as a clerk at a local shipping company, where he developed an interest in writing. A letter to his father recounting a violent storm was later published in a newspaper, and this attracted the attention of wealthy locals who provided funds for him to continue his education in New York City.
Hamilton believed strongly in independence for the Thirteen Colonies and, following the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, he joined a local militia from which he rose to become the senior aide to General Washington. The end of the war saw Hamilton elected as New York’s representative to the Congress of the Confederation, where he argued for a strong central government and the creation of a new constitution.
Hamilton was a highly influential member of President Washington’s cabinet, and was appointed as the first Secretary of the Treasury on 11 September 1789. He continued in this role for almost five years, during which he had a key role in defining the structure of the government of the United States and created the country’s first national bank.
On the 16th August 1819, the Peterloo Massacre occurred at St Peter’s Field in Manchester when a group of over 60,000 protesters were charged by cavalry. An estimated 15 people died, and approximately 700 others were injured.
The protesters had gathered to hear the radical speaker Henry Hunt demand parliamentary and social reform. Britain was caught in the midst of economic depression and the textile industry, concentrated in the industrial centres of northern England, was particularly badly hit. Factory owners cut wages by as much as two-thirds which, combined with the increased price of grain due to the Corn Laws that imposed tariffs on cheaper imports, led to workers facing famine as they could no longer afford to buy food.
They also lacked political representation. The millions of people who lived in the Lancashire mill towns were represented by just two Members of Parliament due to out-of-date constituency boundaries and, due to the limitations of voting rights, they weren’t eligible to vote anyway. These inequalities became a target for radicals, who quickly gained working class support.
Contemporary accounts say that the crowds were peaceful and in good spirits when they assembled on the morning of the 16th August. However, the chairman of the magistrates was concerned by the enthusiastic reception when Henry Hunt arrived, the ordered the local Yeomanry to arrest him. Caught in the crowd, the cavalry began hacking with their sabres. The melee was interpreted by the magistrates as the crowd attacking the yeomanry, and more cavalry were sent in. The crowd dispersed within ten minutes, but eleven people died on the field.
On the 1st August 1834, the Slavery Abolition Act came into force in the United Kingdom, although it had received royal assent a year earlier. The Act outlawed slavery throughout the British Empire, although there were some exceptions such as in areas controlled by the East India Company.
Although Parliament had outlawed the slave trade itself in the Slave Trade Act of 1807, that Act only served to stop the creation of new slaves. It did not address the issue of existing slaves working in the colonies. It was these existing slaves that the new Act sought to address, and although it did abolish slavery the impact took a long time to be felt.
A key problem facing the government was what to do with the former slaves. The Act addressed this issue by stating that former slaves over the age of six became ‘apprentices’ and continued to work on largely the same plantations in largely the same conditions as before. Many of them were only fully emancipated six years later in 1840.
The former slave owners themselves were also dealt with in the Slavery Abolition Act. It’s important to remember that the Act effectively stripped slave-owners of their property. The logic therefore went that the slave-owners needed to be compensated for their loss of property, so the Act established the Slave Compensation Commission who awarded the equivalent of £17bn in today’s money – funded by the taxpayer – to 46,000 slave owners. A searchable online database of every slave-owner who was awarded compensation is available to view at https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/
On the 21st July 1970, construction was completed on the Aswan High Dam in Egypt. Taking just over ten years to build, the High Dam cost nearly $1 billion. However, it’s estimated that this cost was recovered in less than five years thanks to income from increased agricultural production and hydroelectric generation, as well as savings from flood protection and improved navigation.
A dam had already been built across the Nile near the southern Egyptian city of Aswan in 1902. It was designed to store the Nile’s annual floodwater and release it during the dry season in order to irrigate the farms and settlements further downstream. However, despite being heightened twice by the 1930s it still did not provide enough water for future development. Consequently designs for a new dam were sought.
Following the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 led by the Free Officers Movement, President Gamal Abdel Nasser began searching for funding for the new dam. The US, Britain and the USSR all initially offered financial support, but after the USSR promised funding at just 2% interest the other powers pulled out. Income from the Suez Canal following Nasser’s nationalisation of the waterway provided further funds for the construction of the dam.
The completed dam is almost 4km long and 111 metres tall. The 550km long reservoir created when it was flooded is known as Lake Nasser, and holds 132 cubic kilometres of water. The creation of the reservoir forced the relocation of over 100,000 people and a number of archaeological sites that would otherwise have been lost beneath the water.
Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria signed the Reinheitsgebot, a law to ensure the purity of beer that specific a limited number of ingredients.
The early 1500s experienced economic and agricultural tensions which saw brewers and bakers competing to purchase grain to produce their goods. In an effort to avoid price inflation, the Reinheitsgebot consequently limited brewers to only use barley while wheat and rye were exclusively made available to bakers for bread.
The original purity law was signed in Ingolstadt and stated that beer brewed in Bavaria could only contain barley, hops and water. As the political situation in Germany changed over the subsequent centuries the Reinheitsgebot continued to be a central piece of legislation. Its pan-German implementation was even a prerequisite for Bavaria joining the German Empire in 1871. The strict nature of the law meant that it has often met opposition from some German brewers leading to some adaptations. These include recognising that yeast is required for fermentation, and permitting malted ‘grains’ rather than just barley to be used.
Despite the subsequent changes, some people have blamed the Reinheitsgebot for the lack of diversity in German beers. As recently as 2016 the German daily newspaper Der Spiegel criticised the law for denying brewers the opportunity to experiment with new ingredients and styles. Consequently some breweries have begun to create brews that don’t follow the law, but they are not allowed to call them ‘beer’.
Meanwhile the Reinheitsgebot continues to have a number of supporters, and German beers brewed to its specifications have the status of a protected traditional foodstuff under European Union law.
On the 27th March 1963, Chairman of the British Transport Commission Dr Richard Beeching published his report entitled The Reshaping of British Railways. The first of two documents that outlined his plans for the reduction and restructuring of the British railway network, the subsequent Beeching Cuts resulted in the closure of 2,128 stations, thousands of miles of track, and the loss of up to 70,000 jobs.
By the end of the Second World War, road transport had grown exponentially and many of the nation’s railway lines were in a poor state of repair. In 1948 the railways were nationalised and became British Rail. However, economic recovery and the end of petrol rationing spurred a 10% annual increase in road vehicle mileage through to the 1960s, while railway income slowly fell below operating costs. By 1961 British Rail was operating at a loss of £300,000 per day.
Beeching was drafted in by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to make the railways profitable. His detailed analysis of rail traffic highlighted stations and lines that ran at a constant loss by raising very little income while their fixed operating costs remained high. He pointed out that stations and railway lines had broadly the same fixed costs whether they saw 1000 passengers a week or 6000.
Beeching’s report therefore recommended that 6,000 out of the existing 18,000 miles of railway line should be closed entirely, while others should only serve freight. Meanwhile 2,363 stations were to close. Not all the recommendations were implemented, but by the early 1970s thousands of miles of line, thousands of stations, and thousands of jobs had been cut.
On the 25th March 1957 the Treaty of Rome, which laid the foundations for the European Economic Community, was signed by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. The EEC, sometimes referred to as the Common Market, was formally established on the 1st January 1958 and survived, with some changes under the Maastricht Treaty, until 2009 when it was absorbed into the European Union.
The aim of the EEC was to establish economic integration between its members, such as a common market and customs union. However in reality the EEC operated beyond purely economic issues since it included organisations such as the European Atomic Energy Community that sought to generate and distribute nuclear energy to its member states.
The EEC was preceded by the European Coal and Steel Community, which came into force in 1952. The ECSC sought to amalgamate European coal and steel production in order to reconstruct Europe after the devastation of the Second World War and reduce the threat of a future conflict by establishing mutual economic reliance. Within just three years the idea of a customs union was being discussed, with the 1956 Intergovernmental Conference on the Common Market and Euratom establishing the parameters for the Treaty of Rome.
Over time the EEC expanded its membership with Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joining in 1973; the 1980s saw the addition of Greece, Spain and Portugal. With the creation of the European Union in 1993 and its absorption of the EEC in 2009 the union currently contains 28 states, the most recent member being Croatia in July 2013.