American museum aims to teach lessons of finance

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Some top U.S. chief executives may have held on to their jobs if only they had learned the lessons of American financial history.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

A place for such learning will be the Museum of American Finance, which reopens this week after a $9 million make-over and move to the heart of the financial district in lower Manhattan.

The museum located at 48 Wall Street will display gold bars, numismatic treasures, interactive exhibits on entrepreneurship and more.

With its 30,000 square feet of space in a landmark building, the museum will also serve as the de facto visitors’ gallery for the New York Stock Exchange, Lee Kjelleren, the museum’s president, said.

“Our purpose is to bring Wall Street to Main Street and to show the importance and richness of our financial markets and promote a deeper understanding,” he told reporters at a preview.

Increased security after 9/11 has meant the Big Board is off limits to the public, but at the museum a short distance away visitors will be able to see the action from the world’s largest stock exchange on large video screens, he said.

As for the lessons from busts, Richard Sylla, a New York University professor and museum curator, said the exhibits cover the major crashes and turmoil in U.S. economic history.

He said a typical investment banker will experience at least two or three financial upheavals in his or her career, such as the current subprime mortgage and credit crisis that have roiled world markets and led to the ousters of CEOs at Merrill and Citigroup.

“Goldman Sachs made a lot of money because they used their brains to anticipate a crisis. Citibank, Merrill Lynch and some others weren’t so fortunate,” Sylla said.

But the museum isn’t all numbers-crunching or the “dismal science.” Displays include coins salvaged from Spanish treasure ships to the New World, a gold ingot weighing 60 pounds, ticker tape from the Great Crash of 1929 and a Treasury bond bearing the first use of a dollar sign.

Ever wonder who is pictured on the $10,000 bill? Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase. But eventually the museum hopes to display a $100,000 bill. That features President Woodrow Wilson.

The museum will open to the public on Friday, with admission charges of $8 for adults and $5 for children and seniors.

Editing by Chizu Nomiyama