The quintessential book on Bailouts has already been written, it’s called Bailout Nation by Barry Ritholtz and many of my colleagues and clients will be receiving a copy come the holidays.
That said, there was one massive bailout in American history that hasn’t gotten much attention, probably because it was more of a social crisis than a corporate one.
Greg Sabin uncovered this one for Mental Floss:
The Civil War was the most destructive conflict in U.S. history. Millions of men returned from war injured or permanently disabled. What started as a disability fund for Union soldiers injured in the war became, by the end of the 19th century, a pension system for all veterans (other than Confederate veterans, that is) in their old age. In 1894, with the still relatively small scope of government spending and the huge amount of qualified veterans and widows, the $165 million spent in Civil War pensions was more than one third of all federal spending. The widow payouts were so generous that older vets were able to attract young wives looking for financial support. This practice was so prevalent that there were widows collecting these pensions up until (at least) 1999!
Greg has three others in his piece, including the Panic of 1907, the Marshall Plan and the 1970’s rescue of New York City.
Check it out: