Financial History: America's First Budget

Last month I met up with David Cowen, CEO of the Museum of American Finance in New York, for a tour and chat about financial history.

In this clip, Cowen shows us one of America's very first government budgets. You may be shocked at the figures. Have a look. (A transcript follows.)

David Cowen: Well, we're looking at one of the original budgets from 1792; Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton was responsible for these budgets. We have many of the early budgets, and what we'd like to show you on this one is here is Foggy Bottom, the State Department's budget, and it says it's for Thomas Jefferson, who is Secretary of State, and several of his clerks and messengers, and the total budget was $8,097.61.

Morgan Housel: You're not leaving out any zeros. It's $8,000.

Cowen: Eight thousand dollars, and then take a look at the Pentagon budget, the Department of War, called at that time, under Henry Knox and some of his office staff messengers -- $9,190. Now there is an army in the field on the next page, but still, these are a little bit less than what we have today.

Housel: This is probably what the Pentagon spends on coffee every minute.

Cowen: Every minute, you got it, so things have changed a little bit in the United States of America. 


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