Essay: Roger W. Babson Investor
The name Roger W. Babson is virtually unknown in the contemporary era, though readers of standard histories of the period leading to the 1929 stock market crash will recognize this name. Those histories include John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Great Crash and Frederick Lewis Allen’s Only Yesterday. Babson began warning of a stock market crash as early as 1926. Thus, in 1929, he became legendary as the man who had predicted the crash. He was also the founder and author of the Babson Report. Babson published various financial statistical reports and created an investment advisory company in 1927. He was thus faced with the problem of investing his own wealth and that of his clients during a very tumultuous time in American history.
Babson published an autobiography rather late in life. He was born in 1875 and died in 1967. As an investor, he witnessed the transformation of the United States from an essentially agrarian nation to a very technologically sophisticated society. His perspective would be interesting if merely confined to these dynamics; however, Babson was much more than an investor. He had a variety of interests and experiences. For instance, he was one of the few persons to be diagnosed with tuberculosis in the early 20th century who managed to survive to old age in remarkably good health. This was a notable feat since prior to the advent of antibiotics in the late 1930s, tuberculosis was almost invariably fatal.
It is also interesting that Babson was the Prohibition Party candidate for President of the United States in the 1940 election. He and his party wanted to reestablish the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that had originally imposed Prohibition in 1919, but had been repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933. Babson was on friendly terms with many of the elite of the early 20th century, including J.P. Morgan and President Woodrow Wilson. Most interesting is that Babson did not confine his writings to investment topics. For example, he published a series of articles in the New York Times in which, during the spring of 1913, he clearly forecast the outbreak of the First World War.