Risky Business: Winning and Losing in the Early American Economy, 1780-1850



Rising Debt - Falling Stocks - Fortunes - Failures - Profit - Making Good - Making Do

These are all familiar themes in our financial lives. Yet Americans of the early republic also experienced turbulent and uncertain economic times. Some fared better and some worse, as one person's opportunity was another's downfall.

This exhibition explores the currents of American economic change from 1780 to 1850. The times were as unsettling as they were exciting. For every sign of expansion there was contraction. Embargoes crippled international trade yet encouraged domestic manufactures. Internal improvements created expansive trade networks but excluded those not directly in their path. Early factories provided steady labor but led to production systems characterized by increasingly stultifying labor. Mass economic depression often followed waves of new investing and plunged people into debt and despair.

Clearly, the story of the transformation of America's economy was not necessarily a story of ineluctable progress and prosperity. Winning and losing are themes of this history as well as themes of the exhibition. We invite you to consider the true impact of these transformations and their legacies that affect us today, as we navigate the current turbulant economy.

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