Economic Policy Review

Why Did FDR’s Bank Holiday Succeed?

July 2009Volume 15, Number 1
JEL classification: E42, N22, E58

Author: William L. Silber

After a month-long run on American banks, Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed a Bank Holiday, beginning March 6, 1933, that shut down the banking system. When the banks reopened on March 13, depositors stood in line to return their hoarded cash. This article attributes the success of the Bank Holiday and the remarkable turnaround in the public’s confidence to the Emergency Banking Act, passed by Congress on March 9, 1933. Roosevelt used the emergency currency provisions of the Act to encourage the Federal Reserve to create de facto 100 percent deposit insurance in the reopened banks. The contemporary press confirms that the public recognized the implicit guarantee and, as a result, believed that the reopened banks would be safe, as the President explained in his first Fireside Chat on March 12, 1933. Americans responded by returning more than half of their hoarded cash to the banks within two weeks and by bidding up stock prices by the largest ever one-day percentage price increase on March 15—the first trading day after the Bank Holiday ended. The study concludes that the Bank Holiday and the Emergency Banking Act of 1933 reestablished the integrity of the U.S. payments system and demonstrated the power of credible regime-shifting policies.

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