Buy America

    Buy America John D. Spooner ’59, author of Do You Want to Make Money or Would You Rather Fool Around? (Adams Media...


Buy America

John D. Spooner ’59, author of Do You Want to Make Money or Would You Rather Fool Around? (Adams Media Corporation, $19.95),  gets a lesson from an old hand.


One crisis I was witness to—which reinforces the importance of knowing history—was the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963. By then, I was a practicing stockbroker, living at my parents’ house. But the resident manager kept me on a modest salary ($85 a week) because I also filled in for the teletype operator and did odd jobs like changing the cellophane tape on the Translux ticker machines that ran all day, printing the trades on the New York Stock Exchange. In those days, rolls of tape were changed manually, and ink cartridges were inserted into slots so the printing action became legible.…I have always been a mechanically challenged person. Virtually every day, I would go home with my arms blue with ink up to my elbows. “I’ve heard of blue-collar workers, but this is ridiculous,” my mother would say.

“The resident manager says it builds character to know all the jobs in the office,” I would tell her. “And the $85 a week is gravy.”

“The gravy is on your tie,” she would say. Mother always got the last word.

I was changing the ink rolls when the rumor first broke about JFK. The brokers began screaming at me, “Get those inkers in; we can’t see.” The ticker tape was running with indistinct images. They needed the ink man to make the numbers real. And the numbers were falling as the rumors of the shooting became fact. Most people, I believe, when facing chaos, think of self-preservation. Heroes are the ones who look to save others. The brokers were still yelling; people from other offices on our floor streamed into our boardroom to watch the falling market—everyone shocked by the news, gathering together to be somehow reassured by human contact. I was a rookie at this point in my career, and with panic building around me, my initial reaction was, “It’s over, my brief career, the stock market, the country in turmoil.” The resident manager beckoned me with a finger into his office.

“You think it’s over, don’t you?” he said.

“I really don’t know what to think.”

“Did you ever take an American history course?”

I admitted that I had.

“Then you have to step back and recognize that we have this wonderful thing called a Constitution. This incredible event will pass as far as markets are concerned. We have succession in place, and form, and people of enormous goodwill. Always bet against the crowd. There is a poet named David McCord who wrote about Harvard:

“Is that you, John Harvard?”

I said to his statue.

“Aye, that’s me,” said John,

“And after you’re gone.”

“It’s true about Harvard,” the manager said. “And it’s true about America. Be a buyer.”

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