The Museum of American Finance is tucked quietly into 48 Wall Street, New York, the former home of the Bank of New York. Visitors step in and are greeted with marble and Palladian windows, where upscale banking customers would enter to transact business. It’s a grand start to what ends up not being too grand of a museum (but in a good way, because the average visitor will only need about an hour here).
On a recent trip to New York, I stopped in, hoping to see the entrepreneurship exhibit mentioned on the Museum of American Finance’s website. The exhibit itself was nowhere to be found, which was disappointing. (I later saw on the floor plan that it’s tucked away next to the Fed at 100: 100 Objects exhibit, so it’s not easy to find, and I believe that area was behind a curtain and inaccessible during my visit.) It boasted interviews with 16 entrepreneurs, conducted exclusively for the museum. However, there were still some other interesting exhibits that every entrepreneur and small business owner should see.
Alexander Hamilton: Architect of the free market
The free market is what makes it possible for entrepreneurs to introduce their goods and services and price accordingly, and for customers and clients to be willing to pay. Alexander Hamilton is the principal architect of the free market system. He created the US Mint, the Customs Department, the tax system, the Coast Guard – and the Bank of New York, which opened in the Walton house in 1784. Hamilton was just 30 years old, a young entrepreneur that started a bank that could operate without a state charter and which attracted investors. The Museum of American Finance has an entire room dedicated to Hamilton, which is in the style of the Walton house and created by the 1929 architects of the Bank of New York. There is a lot to wade through: documents that Hamilton signed, medals and currency designed in his honor, and some published works. There are also plenty of Hamilton quotes on the walls, as well as information about his life.
The financial markets, where IPOs happen
Any entrepreneur that came of age during the dot-com era knows what an IPO is. But there’s so much more to the financial markets than that. This is the largest permanent exhibit at the Museum of American Finance, and it features the iconic bull and bear statue that traders used to rub for good luck. There’s also a display of commodities, technology, bonds and tickers. There are quotes from early entrepreneurs from the West India Company (1621). Perhaps the most ominous feature is the national debt clock, which keeps ratcheting upward. The amount of information and knowledge to be gleaned is amazing.
Banking in America: More than just the small business loan
Most entrepreneurs don’t think much of banks beyond small business loans and bank accounts. But there is so much more behind it, and the Banking in America exhibit at the Museum of American Finance provides information on everything banking. There are displays on bank robberies, credit cards and the S&L scandal, as well as a piggy bank display where so many entrepreneurs found their first bit of seed money (well, young entrepreneurs!)
Overall, it’s worth a stop into the Museum of American Finance. It’s small, and it’s not very expensive, and learning more about the financial system is a great way to help an entrepreneur or small business owner stay on top of the business and its operations.
Museum of American Finance, 48 Wall Street, in New York City. Open Tuesday – Saturday, from 10 am – 4 pm. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for students/seniors and free for members and kids 6 and under.