Little Bits of History

Money, American style

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 1, 2010

The money is in the bag

April 1, 1778: Oliver Pollock, an Irish immigrant living in New Orleans, Louisiana invents the “$” symbol. Pollock came to the New World colonies at the age of 23 in 1760 and settled with his father in Pennsylvania. Two years later, he began a career as a merchant trading in the West Indies and operating out of Havana, Cuba. He was a shrewd businessman and made his fortune in land speculation and the slave trade.

Pollock eventually moved his business operations to New Orleans and became the most successful businessman in the city. By bringing in a shipment of flour that was desperately needed and charging only half the going price, he won the goodwill of the people.

During the Revolutionary War, he was appointed “commercial agent of the United States in New Orleans” making him responsible for all commerce through the port. He contributed his business acumen along with cash to the financially strapped upstart nation. Debts were eventually repaid, but that payment was slow. In 1783, while waiting for the US to repay him, he was imprisoned for failure to pay his own debts. It wasn’t until 1791 that his debts for the war were finally forgiven by Congress.

Pollock’s handwriting was messy. The currency in New Orleans in 1778 was the peso. He abbreviated that and it appeared to be the letters “p” and “s” transposed and sloppily written, making the symbol we know today as $. Robert Morris, another financier who worked closely with Pollock, perpetuated the use of the symbol.

“No one can earn a million dollars honestly.” – William Jennings Bryan

“If you can count your money, you don’t have a billion dollars.” – Jean Paul Getty

“Only in America – do we leave cars worth thousands of dollars in the driveway and put our useless junk in the garage.” – unknown

“The art is not in making money, but in keeping it.” – proverb

Also on this day, in 1924 Adolf Hitler was sentenced to jail for his part in the Beer Hall Putsch.

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