The very first issue of the Federal Reserve Bulletin was released in May 1915. Starting with that first issue, the Federal Reserve Banks have reported on business conditions in their Districts: (You can read the five-page summary of it on FRASER.) The reports were submitted by the Federal Reserve Agents, possibly as part of the requirement in the Federal Reserve Act (section 4, subsection 20) that they “make regular reports to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.”

These reports on local economic conditions appear to have had value to the businesses in the District as well. Their length and level of detail quickly grew, and within a few years Federal Reserve Banks were distributing their report on local business conditions to businesses directly, in addition to the copy sent to the Board of Governors. The oldest example of a separate District-level publication available in FRASER is from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, published in December 1916.

In January 1919, the Federal Reserve Bulletin noted that these local reports had grown in length and increased in distribution. To provide a more national focus, the Board announced that, because these reports were being issued locally, the Bulletin would cease publishing the full report from the Federal Reserve Agents and summarize the local reports into a national report. The Districts continued to produce their local reports and make them available to the public. The reports varied in content, but offer insights about local economic conditions and concerns at the time.

To get a sense of how different each district’s economy was, it is useful to read these local reports. For instance, one can see a difference just looking at the first issue available for each district in FRASER. For St. Louis in 1917, the focus is on agriculture, the National Stock Yards, fur sales, dry goods, and boots and shoes (an old saying about St. Louis: first in shoes, first in booze, last in the American League). For Philadelphia in 1918, the production of war materials and supplies is a priority, along with railroad transportation issues followed by coal and agriculture. In Chicago in 1917, the focus is on agriculture, automobile manufacturing, and merchandise. In New York’s report in 1919, the focus is on the stock market, money market, and foreign exchange rates (some things don’t change).

Banks continued to regularly publish and distribute their monthly reports of conditions. The publications grew in length and content; most added articles describing local business and banking conditions and many changed their title to something like “Monthly Review” or “Economic Review.” These Reviews also began to publish more in-depth pieces that described the current state of an industry or the service economy, much like a business news magazine might produce. For instance, the Atlanta Fed’s Monthly Review published an article by Brown R. Rawlings in the February 28, 1950, issue describing the frozen concentrate orange juice industry as a “sensational development in food processing.”

The next change for the Reviews was their focus: During the 1970s, many of the Reviews began publishing articles written by economists with much more academic subject matter, a reflection of the Reserve Banks’ academic economists’ interests. For instance, the October 1972 Economic Review from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland included an article written by Theodore Torda[1]: “Impact of Inflation on the Elderly.” It contained footnotes and data and much more detail than the earlier news magazine style articles. Discussions of money supply, monetary policy, fiscal policy, foreign exchange, and other economic matters that were national in scope became common topics in the Reviews. In addition to the more academic and nationally focused content, the style and tone also became more academic, with footnotes and bibliographies similar to a peer-reviewed journal in the economics profession. The audience for these publications was larger than the audience for many peer-reviewed journals, reaching a public audience interested in serious economic issues of the day.

Over time, some Banks have ceased publication of their Reviews; others continue to view them as an important tool for providing the public with research on monetary policy, banking, and developments in the economy.. Over 10,000 back issues of Bank Reviews and research publications are available on FRASER in the Federal Reserve Research Publications collection. Currently, FRASER contains the historical Reviews for the Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, San Francisco, and St. Louis Federal Reserve Banks, as well as the Board of Governors. Additional materials will be added to this theme as they are digitized. Additionally, a listing of all Review title changes and online availability is available.

These historical publications offer a unique view into local business conditions across the United States. They were published regularly and cover a consistent geography—providing an ongoing look into the regional economic conditions and a perspective on how each district had its own, local economy.

 

[1] Torda was better known for developing the Purchasing Managers’ Index as an economist at the U.S. Department of Commerce: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1994/05/26/sar-levitan-dies-at-79/ae19f08b-5cb9-413b-97e9-411235859db5/?utm_term=.3bb87f7f1622.

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