Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-m9kch Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-29T14:48:38.837Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

The Savings of Ordinary Americans: The Philadelphia Saving Fund Society in the Mid-Nineteenth Century

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2009

George Alter
Affiliation:
Associate Professor of History at Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405.
Claudia Goldin
Affiliation:
Professor of Economics at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, and Director of the Development of the American Economy Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Elyce Rotella
Affiliation:
Associate Professor of Economics at Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405.

Abstract

We explore the savings behavior of ordinary Americans through their accounts at the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society, the oldest mutual savings bank in the United States. Our sample contains all 2,374 accounts opened in 1850. Savings accounts were generally brief affairs, but median balances mounted to about three-quarters of annual income in three years. Deposits and withdrawals were infrequent, but substantial. Only female servants, as a group, used their accounts for life-cycle savings, eventually amassing large nest eggs. Men often used them to hold funds before acquiring physical property. We estimate saving rates between 10 and 15 percent on active accounts.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © The Economic History Association 1994

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

References

REFERENCES

Adams, Donald R., “Earnings and Savings in the Early Nineteenth Century,” Explorations in Economic History, 17 (04. 1980), pp. 118–34.Google Scholar
Davis, Lance, and Gallman, Robert, “Capital Formation in the United States during the Nineteenth Century,” in The Cambridge Economic History of Europe, vol. 7, The Industrial Economies: Capital, Labour, and Enterprise, part 2 (Cambridge, 1978), pp. 169.Google Scholar
Deaton, Angus, “Saving and Liquidity Constraints,” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 3196 (12. 1989).Google Scholar
Fishlow, Albert, “The Trustee Savings Banks, 1817–1861,” this Journal, 21 (03. 1961), pp. 2640.Google Scholar
Goldin, Claudia, and Margo, Robert A., “Downtime: Voluntary and Involuntary Unemployment” (Unpublished manuscript, 1991).Google Scholar
Goldin, Claudia, and Margo, Robert A., “Wages, Prices, and Labor Markets before the Civil War,” in Goldin, C. and Rockoff, H., eds., Strategic Factors in Nineteenth Century American Economic History (Chicago, 1992), pp. 67104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hershberg, Theodore et al. , “Occupation and Ethnicity in Five Nineteenth Century Cities: A Collaborative Inquiry,” Historical Methods Newsletter, 7 (06 1974), pp. 174216.Google Scholar
Hershberg, Theodore, and Williams, Henry, “Mulattoes and Blacks: Intra-group Color Differences and Social Stratification in Nineteenth Century Philadelphia,” in Hershberg, T., ed., Philadelphia: Work, Space, Family, and Group Experience in the Nineteenth Century (New York, 1981), pp. 392434.Google Scholar
Johnson, Paul, Saving and Spending: The Working-class Economy in Britain, 1870–1939 (Oxford, 1985).Google Scholar
King, Mervyn, “The Economics of Saving: A Survey of Recent Contributions,” in Arrow, K. J. and Honkapohja, S., eds., Frontiers of Economics (New York, 1985), pp. 227294.Google Scholar
Lebergott, Stanley, Manpower in Economic Growth: The American Record since 1900 (New York, 1964).Google Scholar
Olmstead, Alan L., New York City Mutual Savings Banks, 1819–1861 (Chapel Hill, 1976).Google Scholar
Payne, , Lester, Peter, and Davis, Lance Edwin, The Savings Bank of Baltimore, 1818–1866: A Historical and Analytical Study (Baltimore, 1956).Google Scholar
Philadelphia Saving Fund Society, Accounts, Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE, accession no. 2060.Google Scholar
Philadelphia Saving Fund Society, Annual Report for the Year 1850 (Unpublished handwritten document, Philadelphia, 01. 6, 1851, Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE).Google Scholar
Ransom, Roger L., and Sutch, Richard, “Domestic Saving as an Active Constraint on Capital Formation in the American Economy, 1839–1928: A Provisional Theory,” Working Papers on the History of Saving, No. 1 (12. 1984).Google Scholar
Rotella, Elyce, From Home to Office: U.S.Women at Work, 1870–1930 (Ann Arbor, 1981).Google Scholar
United States Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, “Survey of Consumer Finances, 1983,” Federal Reserve Bulletin (09. 1984).Google Scholar
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Compendium of the Seventh Census of the United States: 1850 (Washington, DC, 1853).Google Scholar
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Seventh Census of the United States, Volume I: 1850 (Washington, DC, 1853).Google Scholar
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Ninth Census of the United States, Volume I, Population: 1870 (Washington, DC, 1872).Google Scholar
United States Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States: From Colonial Times to the Present (Washington, DC, 1975).Google Scholar
Willcox, James M., A History of the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society, 1816–1916 (Philadelphia, 1916).Google Scholar