Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Wall Street’s Heel on the Prodigal Movies

A 1921 article predicted that the era of large movie budgets was over. Let’s just say that didn’t turn out to be the case.

The final hour of profligate spending draws near — of million-dollar salaries and two-hundred-thousand-dollar sets. For the motion-picture-producing companies are putting their houses in order for the inspection of the bankers. These companies have incorporated and have issued stock, and now they are trying to interest the bankers in underwriting that stock. The banker is a conservative. Profligate spending does not look good to him on the payroll.

Thus enters the giant baby industry on the second lap of its journey — a journey suddenly grown staidly practical. The romance of the industry passed with 1920.

About that. Even adjusting for inflation, the list of most expensive movies of all time are all — not just “mostly,” but all — from the 21st century. (#1, if you’re wondering, is 2011’s Disney sequel Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.)

And rather than production costs being curbed by stock, as was apparently occuring in 1921, if anything it’s the opposite today: production costs are soaring precisely because of stock. Entertainment companies’ fortunes are increasingly tied to their nascent streaming platforms of the past few years. Production costs have soared for original programming on those services, to entice new customers and subscribers, which in turn helps the parent company’s share price.

Forbes box office analyst Scott Mendelson put it best in a recent column: “A Wall Street mindset…values $1 in profits earned from streaming more than $5 in profits earned from [theatrical] exhibition.”

 

 

Wall Street’s Heel on the Prodigal Movies (PDF)

Published: Sunday, July 24, 1921

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

July 25th, 2021 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Business,Movies

Hagenbeck’s Closes Its Doors

During WWI, so many animals starved to death at Germany’s famous zoo Hagenbeck’s that the park was forced to close in 1920. Fortunately, it reopened two years later and remains an attraction to this day.

In 1907, Hagenbeck’s originated and pioneered the concept of the open-air zoo, with animals separated from human visitors by moats, rather than trapped in cages, so as to more realistically mimic their natural environment. By 1920, the spectre of potentially permanent closure was all too real:

After seeing scores of its most valuable animals perish of hunger because Germany’s drastic wartime food regulations precluded their getting enough to eat, after losing scores of others because lack of coal caused them to freeze to death, the Hagenbeck firm has given up, for the time being at least, the struggle to keep in business. And, in view of the fact that Germany’s loss of colonies and merchant marine makes it difficult for the firm to meet competition from other countries, there is a possibility that Stellingen may remain closed permanently and the name of Hagenbeck, for years renowned throughout the universe, become only a memory.

As Mark Twain once said, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Tierpark Hagenbeck closed for only two years, then reopened in 1922. While the original site was bombed in 1943 during World War II, it was rebuilt and operates to this day, still run by the Hagenbeck family. (Although, in a 1956 incident, 45 monkeys escaped.)

 

Hagenbeck’s Closes Its Doors (PDF)

Published: Sunday, November 28, 1920

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

November 24th, 2020 at 3:20 pm

Posted in Animals,Business

What’s Wrong With Labor?: Federation Threatened with I.W.W. Control from the Inside

Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was a revolutionary socialist labor union. In 1919, a bitter debate brewed them and the more mainstream and moderate American Federation of Labor (AFL).

One organization’s aim was to attain some method of cooperation between capital and labor and the consequent mutual benefit. The other aimed to eliminate capital.

With such diametric opposition in ideas, the two organizations stood at challenge from the start, as no rival labor organizations had stood before.

All the radical elements, with the turbulent Western Federation of Miners at the head, were, it seemed, to rally around the I.W.W., purging the American Federation of units antagonistic to its purposes, and establishing a chasm between the two. Chasm there was, and across it were hurled the bitterest epithets heard in the labor world.

Ultimately, the IWW lost the debate and the AFL won.

The IWW went from 150+ thousand members in 1917 down to only 3,845 members as of September 2019, according to their most recent annual LM-2 report filed with the Labor Department.

Meanwhile, in 1955 the AFL merged with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) to form the AFL-CIO, now the nation’s largest union federation with 12+ million members.

What’s Wrong with Labor: Federation Threatened With I.W.W. Control from the Inside (PDF)

Published: Sunday, October 26, 1919

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October 23rd, 2019 at 2:51 pm

Posted in Business,Debate

Laboratory of Dry Law Enforcement

Government in 1919 began testing seized substances to determine if they violated Prohibition by containing too much alcohol. Medicines, after all, could contain some — but at a certain point the “medicine” would become illegal.

Many attempts are being made to evade the prohibition law by disguising alcoholic beverages as patent medicines. Some of those discovered are practically all alcohol, with only a little flavoring, like Jamaica ginger, as a disguise. Toilet waters [meaning perfumes and not literal toilet water] are also exmployed as a mask for intoxicating drinks, with a higher percentage of alcohol hidden from the detection of the inexpert by some strong perfume.

The ruling of the bureau is that all alcoholic mixtures sold as medicine must contain at least one drug of recognized therapeutic value; that only so much alcohol may be used as is required by the nature of the mixture as a medicine, and that it shall not be used as a beverage.

The bureau referenced was the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Internal Revenue, the precursor to today’s IRS. As much as you already hate the IRS for taking half your paycheck, imagine if they were still taking away your alcohol too.

 

Laboratory of Dry Law Enforcement: Washington Busy With Batteries of Test Tubes and Retorts Trying to Keep Track of New Ways of Camouflaging Alcohol as a Beverage (PDF)

Published: Sunday, August 31, 1919

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

August 27th, 2019 at 12:01 pm

All of Them Looking for a Man’s Job

After returning from WWI, many men who had previously been on the less stereotypically masculine end of the spectrum wanted more of a “man’s job” in employment.

Most of the men who come back from the war want to do something of more consequence than the work they did before. Having had a hand in the biggest job ever cut out for humankind, they are inclined to look down on the usual workaday task. It isn’t necessarily that they want to make more money. They just want to do something that seems to them of more importance to the world.

An example was told of a man who was formerly a professional dancer, but upon returning from the war desired something else:

This toe dancer… said he wanted his brains and his hands to helpout his toes earn a living. The $30,000 contract made no difference. [Or about $454 thousand in 2019’s dollars.]

“I’ve lived too long in the open,” he said, “to go back into the theatre. I’ve been out under the sun and stars. No more of the white lights for me. I don’t want to be paid $2,000 a month for twirling my body on my toes. If I’m going to do any twirling from now on, I’ll do it with my hands and the muscles of my back. I want a man’s job, in God’s world.”

He got his man’s job.

These are anecdotal, making hard data hard — if not impossible — to come by. But has this become far less common of a turnaround in the modern post-draft military, where (perhaps) the less stereotypically “masculine” men are less likely to enlist in the armed forces in the first places?

All of Them Looking for a Man’s Job: That’s What the Soldiers Seek, but Their Notions Vary – -A Toe Dancer Scorned $30,000 a Year and Turned Farmer, and a Shoe Salesman Went in for Exporting (PDF)

Published: Sunday, July 20, 1919

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July 19th, 2019 at 12:01 pm

Collective Bargaining for Actors’ Wages

Theater actors in July 1919 wanted higher pay for extra performances. When managers refused, the first strike in American theater history occurred.

The old contract had specified eleven national holidays in the year on which the actor was required to play a matinee without additional salary… The actors demanded that they be paid upon a basis of eight performances a week, and that all performances over that number, for whatever cause given, should be paid for proportionately.

The managers, in reply, said that it was a financial impossibility; that it was at variance with all the established customs of the theatre and would mean simply that the players must accept smaller salaries; that actors often had been paid for full week when only six or seven performances had been given in place of the scheduled eight — and refused.

The next month, this resulted in the first strike in American theater history. According to the Actors’ Equity Association, “The strike lasted 30 days, spread to eight cities, closed 37 plays, prevented the opening of 16 others and cost millions of dollars.”

In the end, the actors won.

Collective Bargaining for Actors’ Wages: Equity Association Demands, Not an Eight-Hour Day, but Pay for Overtime, and Managers Refuse to Recognize the Union — Possible Effect on Playgoers (PDF)

Published: Sunday, July 13, 1919

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

July 12th, 2019 at 5:31 pm

Posted in Business,Theater

Plans For Dry New York

With Prohibition going into effect mere weeks away, what were the bars of New York City to do? Replacement options were sprouting in an attempt to replicate the bars’ former atmospheres, only without alcohol.

The Salvation Army, for one, is getting ready to enter the field. It will run substitutes for saloons, which, it is hoped, will preserve the opportunities for sociability and innocent forms of recreation presented by the saloon, as we have always known it, without the aid of the cup that cheers and likewise inebriates…

So there is already one Salvation Army “bar,” with a genuine brass rail and everything in the way of drinks except alcoholic ones…

The Salvation Army has options on five places now run as regular saloons and may soon have twenty-five liquorless saloons in operation in New York ready for the drought after July 1.

These must have not have been super popular, considering that Prohibition was repealed 14 years later.

And good thing, too. Speaking as somebody who performs at a piano bar every Friday night, alcohol consumption among patrons is heavily correlated to the amounts that customers tip to hear their favorite songs.

Plans For Dry New York: Saloon-Substitutes for City’s Ten Thousand Drinking Places Doomed to be Liquorless On and After July 1 Broadway of Old (PDF)

Published: Sunday, June 8, 1919

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

June 5th, 2019 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Business,Life

System In Our War

The War Department underwent a substantial change at the beginning of World War I, transforming from a largely combat-based agency to a manufacturing- and business-based one. Assistant Secretary of War Benedict Crowell explained in this 1918 interview:

The War Department [has] become a business affair. He cited the aircraft work of the army as an example.

“A year ago,” said Mr. Crowell, “there were eleven officers, all strictly military men, and about 1,000 privates in the aircraft work. Now in that branch of the war business we have thousands of officers and 100,000 men. But 96 per cent. of those officers are trained business men and engineers from big civil enterprises. Most of them are in military uniform, but that is merely a matter of form that does not go to the substance of the business.

“And this change that has come over the aircraft division in its personnel is illustrative of what is being done or has been done by Mr. Baker [Secretary of War Newton Baker] throughout the department. There is very little about it today that is military, on this side of the Atlantic, except the outward form, the dress and the assumed military ceremonial. Under all that is the same sort of spirit and energy and organization that is indispensable to the successful business enterprise.”

In the words of comedian Bo Burnham to the tune of the classic Edwin Starr song War: “War! / What is it good for? / Increasing domestic manufacturing.”

 

System In Our War: An Interview with Acting Secretary Benedict Crowell, Who Tells of a Year’s Changes in Baker’s Department 

Published: Sunday, March 24, 1918

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March 22nd, 2018 at 8:01 am

Business World’s Grievance Against Germany

President Trump spent the past few weeks ratcheting up his trade wars, which he claims would be “easy to win.” He has implemented tariffs on steel and uranium, in a move that even many or most of his own party’s Congress members oppose, not to mention most other world leaders. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong, and indeed America’s $566 billion trade deficit in 2017 was the highest since 2008.

But this 1918 article by Edward A. Bradford made a similar case to the argument against Trump today — namely, that freer markets rather than protectionism benefit all. Similar to how the current administration’s policies are trying to discourage Americans from purchasing products from China, Mexico, Canada, Japan, and other nations, the feeling was widespread in 1918 that Americans shouldn’t purchase products or encourage business from Germany once World War I was over. Bradford rebutted that notion:

It is necessary to curb Germany in order to make the world safe for democracy. It is even more necessary in order to make the world safe for business. And the number of those who care for business is incomparably larger than the number of those who care for politics…

Business makes the whole world kin, and there is business under monarchies and democracies alike, without regard to politics. There is no law about politics, and probably never can be so long as politics does not disturb property and business. But there is a world law of business, for all the world trades together, and thereby establishes a common law of business…

No nation can allow another nation to impose law upon it, and no formula for international law can be agreed upon. Under our laws a man is entitled to trial before a jury of his peers. There can be no such jury in international cases. The case starts with prejudices, which never were so strong as now. The world is in hostile camps, and there are those who would like to see business done under systems of boycott or economically hostile organizations. This war must have an end, but a war of boycott would run interminably, with loss for all and benefit to none.

Business World’s Grievance Against Germany: A Nation Organized Like a Trust, Conspiring for Restraint of all Trade Without Guidance of Reason or Conscience (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 17, 1918

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

March 13th, 2018 at 3:56 pm

Posted in Business

Some Good in the Garfield Shock

The hyperbole-free New York Times described a contemporary January 1918 government decision as “Probably no executive order in this country ever aroused such a unanimity of expression.”

What was this controversial decision that had the entire nation on edge? “Fuel Administrator Garfield’s recent five-day closure of industry and business east of the Mississippi River.”

Wait, what?

Harry Garfield, son of former president James A. Garfield, was serving as president of Williams College when he was named by President Wilson as the first Administrator for the Fuel Administration, a new agency created to better manage American resources during World War I.

As this article from 1914-1918-online: International Encyclopedia of the First World War details, a massive coal shortage was causing many homes and businesses to go without heat, energy, and light. The problem was distributional rather than supply-based, as railcars intended to transport coal were halted or even abandoned due to backlogs on the railways.

Since this problem was primarily on the east coast, Garfield ordered most factories east of the Mississippi River closed for five days, from January 18-22, 1918, and then again every Monday thereafter. The plan generated massive outcry of government overreach, and indeed the policy was abandoned mere weeks later.

Even at the time it seems hard to imagine that executive order being considered more controversial and significant than, say, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. There have certainly been a wealth of more controversial presidential administration executive decisions since then, ones whose controversy hasn’t dimmed over the decades as Wilson’s/Garfield’s did — from Roosevelt’s Japanese internment camps to Ford’s blanket pardon of Nixon.

Some Good in the Garfield Shock: Ex-Judge Lacombe Analyzes the Situation — Workless Days Order May Yield Eventual Benefits in Spite of Almost Unanimous Criticism

From Sunday, January 27, 1918

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

January 25th, 2018 at 2:37 pm

Posted in Business,Politics