Wall Street to Main Street: Charles Merrill and Middle-Class Investors

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Wall Street to Main Street: Charles Merrill and Middle-Class Investors focuses on the spectacularly successful career of financier Charles Merrill (1885-1956), the founder of Merrill Lynch & Co., the world's largest brokerage and investment firm. Merrill was the most innovative entrepreneur in the United States financial services sector in the twentieth century. He was the most important figure in promoting common stocks as a prudent long-term investment vehicle for members of the middle class across the United States. Opening more than 100 branch offices across the nation by 1950, his firm solicited millions of middle-class households and became famous for bringing "Wall Street to Main Street" in the post-World War II era. Today, American investors hold, either directly or indirectly through mutual funds, a greater percentage of common stocks in their financial portfolios than do the citizens of any other country. Based on archival sources, this book is the first biography published about the career of this major Wall Street figure. Edwin Perkins is a professor of history and an expert on the development of American financial services. Author of five books and several journal articles, Professor Perkins has testified before the U.S. Congress about proposed reforms to U.S. financial laws.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Readers who enjoy biographies and the history of business will find food for thought in this very comprehensive history of the world's largest brokerage and investment firm, Merril Lynch, and biography of founder Charles R. Merrill (1885-1956). Scholarly and detailed but readable, the book discusses Merrill's success with the Safeway food chain, the business climate during the 1920's and 1930's, his relationship with Edmund Lynch (who died in 1938), and the war and postwar years and his success in opening offices nationwide (100 by 1950) that attracted flocks of middle-class investors to the stock market." Steven J. Mayover, Library Journal

"With access to company archives and cooperation from Merrill's family, Perkins provides this scholarly portrait of Merrill's business career." David Rouse, Booklist

"...a first class portrayal of a most innovative entrepreneur." Fore Word

"This readable and well-documented work is recommended for public, academic, and professional libraries." Choice

"...an excellent book that will be of especial interest to business and financial historians." Louis Cain, Journal of Economic History

"...lively and well-written book..." H-Net Reviews

"One of the most exciting aspects of Wall Street to Main Street is the extent to which it opens new topics for future research...the book opens up new ground...because Perkins is himself so well versed in the larger concerns of the field of business history, the study os a fertile starting point for future research." Business History

"...lively and well-written book...read Perkins' interesting and provocative treatment yourself and, like me, wait for the outcome of the discussion of Merrill's career that this fine book is sure to engender." EH.Net

"[It] does a very good job explaining brokerage and investment banking operations and how government regulation affected them...a lively biography of an important American businessman." American Historical Review

"This polished study centers on Merrill's business career, assessing his significance within the development of America's financial sector of the personalities of Merill and other key executives with a clear delineation of the economic and regulatory context, using comparisons with earlier and later ears in marketing and financial services...access to internal sources and Perkin's authoritative and lucid analysis make this a high quality addition to the literature in business." Enterprise & Society

Harry O. Lang Jr.
[Wall Street to Main Street] is written in a style that does justice to the author's extensive research. Once in a while there is some redundancy, but it does not detract from a first class portrayal of a most innovative entrepreneur. A prospective audience for this book will be found readily among the many people with business pursuits; business practices of one trade can translate into the success of another.
ForeWord Magazine
Library Journal
Readers who enjoy biographies and the history of business will find food for thought in this very comprehensive history of the world's largest brokerage and investment firm, Merrill Lynch, and biography of founder Charles E. Merrill 1885-1956. Perkins, a history professor at the University of Southern California and a specialist in U.S. financial services, focuses on Merrill's business career rather than his personal life, although Perkins does delve into Merrill's upbringing near Jacksonville, FL, and his education at Amherst. Scholarly and detailed but readable, the book discusses Merrill's success with the Safeway food chain, the business climate during the 1920s and 1930s, his relationship with Edmund Lynch who died in 1938, and the war and postwar years and his success in opening offices nationwide 100 by 1950 that attracted flocks of middle-class investors to the stock market. Perkins concludes with a look at the firm today. For business and general collections.--Steven J. Mayover, Free Lib. of Philadelphia
Kirkus Reviews
Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith is the world's most successful brokerage firm. Perkins (History/University of Calif., Los Angeles) tells of its founder and how, with his eponymous partners, he brought the blessings of investing to the masses. Perkins focuses on Charlie Merrill as businessman, foregoing deep character delineation. In a stab at financial hagiography, comparison is made to larger-than-life folk like J.P. Morgan. Undeniably, Charlie (as he is called to this day) wielded an important influence on Wall Street and how the Street did business, but contrary to the author's manifest intent, this first published biography somehow makes him seem less a visionary than a comic strip bigwig. The narrative of Charlie, an everyday southern gent who rose to great power and wealth, never ignites. From his college days, through his days as the boss of both the Safeway grocery chain and his own Wall Street business, to his semi-retirement and ultimate demise, Charlie seems, frankly, like a tedious fellow-one with penchants for bridge, obedience to his commands, and, not least, trophy wives. (For a more passionate view, one might consult the works of his son, poet James Merrill). The founder's personal story is lightly integrated with the ascendance of Merrill Lynch. Promoting first-rate public relations, new marketing techniques as well as intensive brokers' training, Merrill Lynch did, indeed, democratize investing and became a great enterprise with branches as ubiquitous as Starbucks. But one still awaits the definitive study of MLPF&S as a business phenomenon. Meanwhile, the present text, if not animated, is clear and generally accurate (despite Perkins's grating habit of callingthe back office, where bookkeeping is done, by the more theatrical but mistaken term, "backstage"). A decent, not definitive attempt to depict, at once, the history of a business and its founder, sounding more like a curriculum vitae than a full-blown biography of Merrill and his company.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521630290
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/1999
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 298
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction; 1. The return to Wall Street; 2. Growing up in Florida; 3. A Northern education; 4. The lure of New York; 5. Off to a flying start; 6. The booming twenties; 7. The Safeway decade; 8. Reform on Wall Street; 9. Third career: new strategies on Wall Street; 10. Testing new strategies: the war years; 11. Sharing power with Win Smith; 12. The postwar years, 1945–50; 13. Last years at the helm, 1951–56; 14. Merrill's legacy; Epilogue: Merrill Lynch in the 1990s; Appendix; Bibliography; Index.

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