Land of Dollars

Money in the Minds of American Immigrants, 1870–1930

Atiba Pertilla

Bolognesi, Hartfield & Co., Steamship Agents for Italian Line, 50 Wall St., ca. 1907. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.1711.

“Land of Dollars: Money in the Minds of American Immigrants, 1870–1930,” examines the everyday financial practices of immigrants to the United States from the Civil War to the New Deal era as they learned to save money, send money to their families overseas, and invest money in projects of their own. It traces the development of financial institutions immigrants created for themselves and how immigrants responded to and transformed new kinds of financial infrastructures, such as postal savings banks and licensed remittance agencies, created by both the United States and their home countries in hopes of capturing and controlling how they thought about and used their money. Finally, it describes how incidents of bank fraud, financial panics, and counterfeiting in immigrants’ communities helped shape ideas about the linkages between ethnic identity, Americanization, and civic capacity. While studies of the “first era of globalization” often emphasize the activities and experiences of elite financiers, the argument of the project is that scrutiny of the development of intercontinental monetary flows that depended on the choices and agency of migrants at the bottom of the economic ladder will shed light on the emergence of a truly global economy.