Bank runs first appeared as part of cycles of credit expansion and its subsequent contraction. In the 16th century onwards, English goldsmiths issuing promissory notes suffered severe failures due to bad harvests plummeting parts of the country into famine and unrest. Other examples are the Dutch Tulip manias (1634-1637), the British South Sea Bubble (1717-1719), the French Mississippi Company (1717-1720), the “Post Napoleonic Depression” (1815-1830) and the Great Depression (1929-1939).
Bank runs have also been used to blackmail individuals or governments; for example in 1830 when the British Government under the Duke of Wellington overturned a majority government under the orders of the king, George IV, to prevent reform (the later 1832 Reform Act), he angered reformers and so a run on the banks was threatened under the rallying cry “To stop the Duke go for gold!”.
Many of the recessions in the United States were caused by banking panics. The Great Depression contained several banking crises consisting of runs on multiple banks from 1929 to 1933; some of these were specific to regions of the U.S. Much of the Depression’s economic damage was caused directly by bank runs, and institutions put into place after the Depression have prevented runs on U.S. commercial banks since the 1930s, even under conditions such as the U.S. savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and 1990s. The Depression’s bank runs left a lasting mark on the American psyche, exhibited in sometimes disturbing images such as the bleak scenes where the fictional hero George Bailey contemplates suicide in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life.
The Modern: IndyMac Bank
The Olden: Building & Loan Bank from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’