Museum of American Finance



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1 The museum is only the second tenant ever (not including office space) in this ornate building. The first occupant was the Bank of New York, which operated here from 1929 to 1998, and is the oldest bank in the nation (it was founded in 1784 by Alexander Hamilton, the dude on the sawbuck who designed America’s financial system). Worth noting: The murals of industry and commerce scenes are original.

2 Confused by the current financial downturn? MOAF’s amazingly digestible, still-evolving timeline of the credit crisis will help you understand why the shit hit the worldwide fan—starting in February 2007, when Mortgage Lenders Network USA went belly-up, and including more recent highlights of massive global fuckery, both near (the collapse of Lehman) and far (sorry, Iceland). Posters are available in the gift shop—should you desire a daily reminder of why you’re broke.

3 The history of money sounds boring. Luckily, that’s not the M.O. here: According to the museum’s communications director, Kristin Aguilera, MOAF’s mission is to “help people understand and use their money.” To that end, you’ll find exhibits explaining everything from how to read a credit-card agreement to what a commodity is. Feeling pretty good about your discretionary funds? Allow us to direct you to the gift shop...

4 Landmark status prevents the museum from substantially altering some of the original architecture. Nevertheless, the museum finds creative ways to work its limited space: Don’t miss the knee-level collection of piggy banks stashed in nooks; they were once used for deposit slips and other bank documents. The museum was able to build out some of the nonhistorical parts of the building, however, and it was even able to order the exact same marble from the Italian quarry the Bank of New York used in the 1920s.

5 The interactive permanent exhibit “Entrepreneurs” is a must-see for anyone thinking of starting their own business. Kiosks are set up with video monitors showing interview footage with supersuccessful moguls, and users can select what each tycoon talks about from a long list of topics. The effect is a face-to-face interview with self-made gurus, including restaurateur Drew Nieporent, Brooklyn Brewery’s Steve Hindy and JetBlue’s David Neeleman. And their advice is often surprising: Hindy, for example, decided to distribute his own product (unheard of in NYC at the time) after a chance meeting with a Brooklyn neighbor who’d run a successful beverage business.

6 According to Aguilera, the piece in the museum that required the most research is something you’d never expect: a small plaque that breaks down the dense web of mergers and acquisitions that led to the modern Bank of America (though the chart has not been updated to reflect BOA’s role in the current financial fiasco).

7 Interactive exhibits here are top-notch: Giant iPhone-like touch screens walk you through everything from how to read a stock certificate to what all those pictures on the $10 bill mean.

8 A copy of the respectable newspaper Investment News, dated October 25, 1929, bears the banner headline STOCK MARKET CRISIS OVER, appearing the day after the notorious Black Thursday. That was followed, of course, by the even more notorious Black Monday and Black Tuesday, which kick-started the Great Depression.

9 You can’t bring in your bank statement and get financial advice here, but you can get a handle on timely financial eff-ups, like the mortgage crisis and unrestrained credit card debt, via the museum’s frequent talks, film screenings and neighborhood walking tours.

Museum of American Finance, 48 Wall St at William St (212-908-4110, Tue--Sat 10am--4pm. Through August 31 10am-6pm. $8, seniors and students $5, children under 6 free. Tue-Sat 10am--11am free (through August).


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